3 Mar : Describing himself as a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, the owner of his personal items that are going under the hammer said he is ready to give them to the Indian government for "free" if it decides to spend five per cent of its GDP on poor.
James Otis, the owner of the Mahatma’s items, said he plans to donate most of the money collected from the auction to "worthy causes" and institutions and groups working to promote Mahatma’s ideals especially non violence.
Otis said he will "donate the items to the Indian government free if it decides to spend five per cent of GDP on the poor, who were very near to the heart of Gandhi, or announces some other scheme which would benefit them".
The statement of Otis came as several Indian-American leaders, including leading hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal, announced their intention to bid for the items and, if successful, hand them over to the Indian government.It was not clear whether Otis would be able to get out the contract with auctioneers who get commission on the sale but he said an arrangement could be worked out between them.
Antiquorum Auctioneers’ spokesperson was immediately not available for comment and an email sent did not elicit any response.The auctioneers had valued Gandhi’s belonging being auctioned at around USD 20,000 to 30,000 but the controversy could raise the price much higher.
Some of the community leaders said they would not be surprised if the price goes around USD 80,000 to 100,000.On another front, senior officials of the Indian Consulate in New York are holding negotiations with the auction house as part of an attempt to prevent it from putting the items on auction which triggered a public outcry in India. But the auctioneers deny that they have been contacted so far.
They maintain that the auction would go through and the government could bid either itself or through a representative.Otis has added two more items a blood report of Gandhi issued by Irwin Hospital and a telegram in which Gandhi congratulated students for their peaceful non-violent struggle, to items to be auctioned.
Already on the auction block were Gandhi’s metal rimmed glasses, pocket watch, a pair sandals, a plate and a bowl.Otis agreed that time for working an arrangement with the Indian government is short but said the things could be discussed over telephone and it should not be difficult to come to some understanding.
Otis said he had sent an email to Mahatma Gandhi’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi on the subject. But he is not in contact with any government official.He had acquired the items, Otis said, from the Gandhi family as also from other sources including dealers because of his love for Gandhi and appreciation for his advocacy for non violence which is very relevant in the modern day world especially in the areas witnessing conflicts.
Otis said that he has been so influenced by Gandhi that he observes silence one day a week as Mahatma used to do.Gandhi showed the strength of non-violence by throwing out the British from India and several other leaders followed his lead.Otis said he had been collecting the items for about last 15 years.
Replying to a question, he said he has been very saddened by the fact that there has been so much anger over his decision to auction the items."I hope to diminish (the anger). But I did buy some of the items from the Gandhi family and I bought and retrieved other items in auctions in London and New York. I also bought them from private dealers," he said.
Asked whether he tried to sell the items to the Indian government or some museum, Otis said he was not going in for commercial transactions. "I always wanted to promote Gandhi’s works and his ideals."
He said he had displayed the items in museums and universities where he got positive response from the students. But he has not been able to take the items around the world, something "the person who buys, I hope, would be able to do."
Asked what made him decide to auction the items at this point of time, Otis said he was inspired by American President Barack Obama admiration for Gandhi and Martin Luther King and his own belief that Gandhi’s words would be more relevant today.