Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Gandhi’s Glasses: Chapter 3

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
colonial past.’

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


SallyHopper said...

India asking for these items back is like France asking for the Statue of Liberty back. Just because it originates in the country, once they are gifted out, or legally sold, THEY ARE NOT YOUR PROPERTY ANYMORE... if you want them give your citizen healthcare like Otis is asking and you can have them for FREE! The US is headed toward 20%GDP for healthcare, Otis asks India to promise just 5%. Seems fair for an emerging country.

Derry Nairn said...

Sally - don't confuse a gift from a sovereign nation with imperial booty.

France was a sovereign nation when it donated the Statue in good will. India, by contrast, had just lost a war and been forced into a humiliating peace treaty with an imperial power when the diamond moved west.

I do, however, agree that India could find better uses for its resources - ie. healthcare - than chasing Gandhi's personal encoutrements to the ends of the earth!

History Today magazine said...

I have to agree that if items are given as gifts or legally sold, it is very difficult to then claim them back.
I am not sure, however, that Gandhi's possessions can, and should, be used as a weapon for bargaining for increased expenditure on healthcare... I really don't think that the situation in India is that simple. Firstly, it is not that easy to just increase GDP expenditure on healthcare. Also, there is so much more that it needed than just increasing expenditure as you need, for example, the infrastructure to be able to provide healthcare services.
Also, the case of the Koh-i-noor diamond seems slightly different as it was taken by the East India Company in the context of British colonisation of India. It was not given as a gift or sold, so maybe there the basis for India's claim is different...

Anonymous said...

There is an OnLine Petition to Return Mahatma Gandhi's Personal Belongings to India.


Respectfully submitted

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Daniela said...

Interesting post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting. I’ll likely be coming back to your blog. Keep up great writing.

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