by Kathryn Hadley
With the auction of Gandhi’s spectacles, pocket watch, sandals, bowl and plate, due to take place in New York tomorrow, here is a last update on the current state of affairs. Last week, Tushar Gandhi, a great-grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, launched a popular appeal to Indians to raise the necessary funds to buy the items in order to place them in a national museum. Following initial disappointment with the response of the government, his appeal now appears to have borne fruit. According to reports by the Press Trust of India, India’s leading news agency, at the end of last week, a culture ministry official had intervened and asked the owners of the items to give them to the government. The owners include the daughter of one of Gandhi’s nieces, who authorised a German collector to sell the items, and James Otis, who is based in Los Angeles.
On Friday, the culture minister Ambika Soni allegedly told to the Press Trust of India:
‘Whatever can be done is being done to ensure that articles are not auctioned...
involving all concerned stakeholders’.
Anand Sharma, the minister of state for external affairs, is also reported to have claimed:
‘We will acquire all those assets of Mahatma Gandhi.’
On Sunday, The Financial Times reported that James Otis feared that the Indian government would stop the auction, through a court order or an appeal to the US state department, and had offered to sell the possessions to India. He is believed to have offered to negotiate with the Indian government for the collection to return to India for public display and stated his intention to donate the proceeds of the sale to charitable funds in support of non-violent action in the developing world and to help improve the lives of India’s people.
‘Indians deserve healthcare. About 1 per cent of GDP is spent on healthcare. If
it was increased considerably, I would be honoured to make a deal with the
auction house to give them to [India]’.
The situation remains, however, unclear. Despite pledges by Indian officials and the culture minister’s words to the Press Trust of India on Friday, Otis told The Financial Times that no offer had yet been made to him or to the auction house.
The current campaign to prevent the auction has also sparked further demands for the return of other objects to India, which allegedly similarly form part of India’s heritage. Yesterday, an article on the website of The Times thus claimed that Tushar Gandhi had also called for Britain to return the Koh-i-noor diamond to India, once the largest known diamond in the world, which originated from the state of Andhra Pradesh on the Southeast coast of India and was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850.
‘The Koh-i-noor diamond is something that rightfully belongs to India […] If the
jewels of Windsor were held by an Arab sheikh, then Britain wouldn't really like
that. I'd love to see it back in India. Returning it would be atonement for the
Just as the current situation appears unclear, the outcome of Tushar Gandhi’s campaign and tomorrow’s sale also remain an enigma. I will be following the events closely and write the fourth chapter of the tale of Gandhi’s glasses as soon as the end is revealed!
For more information on Gandhi's legacy and ideals, read our article Makers of the Twentieth Century: M. K. Gandhi