by Kathryn Hadley
The auction of Gandhi’s glasses, pocket watch and sandals, as well as a bowl and plate, by Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York on March 4th and 5th was announced a couple of weeks ago. The sale of the personal belongings of a man renowned for his ascetic lifestyle and life philosophy sparked, however, considerable controversy. The announcement fuelled opposition in India, where some of Gandhi’s followers have requested that the buyer put the objects in the public domain and a group of MPs have demanded their return to India. One minister suggested that the government should enter the auction and buy the items arguing that they formed part of India’s heritage.
Tushar Gandhi, a great-grandson of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, has, however, recently launched a ‘people’s initiative’, a popular appeal to Indians to raise the necessary funds to buy the objects in order to thereafter preserve them in a museum. He has argued, on similar grounds to some Indian ministers and followers of Gandhi, that the objects constitute part of Indian heritage and should not be sold to wealthy collectors.
‘These objects are very close identities of someone we call the 'Father of the
Nation' […] We have to bring them back’.
The director of the National Gandhi Museum in New Delhi, Varsha Das, further agued:
‘[Gandhi] was never in favor of this kind of commercialism...and I think if we
become so possessive about Mahatma Gandhi he would only be pained’.
It is expected that Gandhi’s glasses alone will fetch £30,000 (approximately $43,000) and the winning bid may well be higher. Tushar Gandhi has so far raised $3,010, just over £2,000, a mere fifteenth of the expected sale price, and has expressed his disappointment with the response from the government and corporate sector. Although he believes that the government can finance the purchase, he wishes the money to come primarily from popular initiative, in keeping with the ‘Gandhian spirit’.
‘The government can easily do it but if we were to do this through a people's
initiative it would be a much more Gandhian thing to do’.
Also in keeping with his great-grandfather’s attitude, Tushar Gandhi, believes that he may still be able to raise the necessary funds:
‘I'm an incurable optimist. Miracles happen’.