The Great Gandhi Fire Sale

06 Mar


Everything must go!

The government, through its mission in New York [told] auctioneers and the owner that Mahatma Gandhi has willed all his personal belongings to the Navjivan Trust and showed them a copy of the Delhi High Court order.
Mr Otis on Wednesday met Indian consul general in New York, Prabhu Dayal, to work out an agreement. The owner of the memorabilia handed over a three-page proposal to the consul general, who forwarded the draft to New Delhi.
Mr Otis was quoted as saying that he would agree to hand over the items if the Indian government agreed to one of two demands: Increase budgetary allocation for the poor by reducing military expenditure or create an international travelling exhibit about Mahatma Gandhi that would reach 78 countries, one for each year of his life.
The government determination to get the memorabilia back into the country was apparent as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the culture minister to acquire Mahatma Gandhi’s personal belongings even if it meant bidding at the auction. “The prime minister has directed me to do whatever possible….the bottom line is to procure the memorabilia,” culture minister Ambika Soni said.
But the statement reflected the government’s distaste for bidding for the items. “The government does not want to commercialise and thereby demean the memory of the father of the nation and everything that he stood for in his life, beliefs and actions,” MEA spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said.

Good grief. This proposal is why I can’t stand people with good intentions – they invariably make me want to send them to hell.

On the surface: reduction in military spending, good; increase in public healthcare, excellent; Gandhi exhibits around the world, very good! All things that I would support… if they weren’t being held up as quid pro quo by some guy selling Gandhi “memorabilia”!

Were James Otis and Lester Kurtz born tone deaf? A couple of Americans telling the government of India how to write its budget in this political climate? What the hell do they think is going on in South Asia right now? Cue the yells about American neo-imperalism any second now.

Entertaining as all this is bound to be in the long run, however, I’m left wondering:

1. If Gandhi willed everything he owned to the Navjivan Trust, how did Otis get his hands on these items? They can’t have walked out on their own from wherever they were kept.

2. According to his proposal, Otis says

that potentially he would also lend some of his Gandhi items, which he has not yet publicly disclosed are in his possession: blood from Gandhi from the assassination and ashes from the cremation

for the purposes of the traveling exhibit he and his friend Lester Kurtz had planned on behalf of the Indian government.

Uh, did I just read that right? Keeping aside the macabre “blood from assassination” bit (I can see the attraction for collectors), but the ashes from the cremation? Does he keep them in an urn on the mantelpiece? And he isn’t even the first one to have these items:

He said, those items were given to him by another Gandhi collector a few years back.

Lovely. Lord only knows what other stuff is out there. In stark contrast are the other items in his collection – a letter from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a flag signed by Cesar Chavez… no biological content other than Gandhi’s in the lot.

3. HAHAHA @ The Delhi High Court ordering an interim stay on the auction. Oh yeah – that just screams seriousness! The auction house must have been shaking in its boots. Does the Indian consulate in New York not know any lawyers? Manhattan is crawling with them, you know. A lot of them are even desi. I’m sure they could’ve figured out which courtroom to go to.

4. The Indian government feels the items are priceless – so it refuses to participate in the auction and will only offer the reserve price. Yup, that makes sense. God (or a man with a taste for bling and nubile young things) will provide, apparently.

5. I keep hearing about how phenomenal Indian diplomacy is – in which case they must be working on an entirely different wavelength from the rest of the government because who but a complete moron would create a controversy around an auction just days before the items go under the hammer? The auction house and Otis really ought to send flowers and candy to the Indian government for the price they realized.

6. Tushar Gandhi knows all about these items on sale:

The items sold have great significance. Gandhi had said that the spectacles were the “eyes” which gave him the vision to free India. His great grandson says the leader ate his last meal before he was murdered from the plate and bowl, and had made the sandals with his own hands.

Did Tushar Gandhi never wonder in all these years where said items were being kept?

7. Irony is dead.

“I never intended for my actions to cause this controversy,” [Otis] said. “I pray the outcome is positive and one that Gandhi would approve of.”


An offer to simply buy the objects had been rejected. Otis said he wanted a major initiative “demonstrate to the entire world the commitment of the Indian government to following the principles of Gandhi’s historical message”.

Otis has clearly never run into the Government of India before. Or Gandhi for that matter.


Posted by on March 6, 2009 in News, Politics


6 responses to “The Great Gandhi Fire Sale

  1. Ramsu

    March 7, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Out of curiosity, are these the items that get mentioned in the end of Hey Ram?

  2. B o o.

    March 7, 2009 at 3:23 am

    Exactly my thoughts when I read about it. I want to throw stuff on his face and shout “Humaare paas Gandhiji hai”!!

  3. pitu

    March 7, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    BLOOD from Gandhi and some of his ASHES???????? What is this? An Anne Rice novel? Beyond disgusting, I am sorry to say.

  4. memsaab

    March 7, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    “God (or a man with a taste for bling and nubile young things) will provide, apparently.”

    How did you know????

  5. M

    March 9, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    You think the blood and ashes are really from Gandhiji? Sounds like a publicity stunt to me…


  6. Amrita

    March 10, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Ramsu – I don’t remember the end of Hey Ram. Truth be told, I kind of checked out half way through that movie and it’s been a while. 😳

    Boo – hahaha, you should make it gulaal so he gets the point more clearly.

    Pitu – I’m even more sorry it exists in the first place. Gross.

    Memsaab – you clearly have never met Vijay Mallya.

    M – I thought it possibly couldnt be true and then I remembered it was India meri jaan and there’s certainly the possibility 😦 It’s gross either way.

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