Indian-American hotelier plans Gandhi bid

Mahatma Gandhi was known for his peaceful opposition to tyranny, which led to India's independence.
Indian-American hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal said Wednesday he plans to bid on several belongings of Mahatma Gandhi scheduled for auction in New York Thursday, with the goal of returning them to India.

“The idea is to get them back as a community and donate [them] to India,” Chatwal told CNN, adding that he would welcome other members of the Indian community in the United States to join him in his auction effort. Chatwal said if he obtains the items, he plans to give them to the museum where some of Gandhi’s items are kept. Given Gandhi’s importance to India, Chatwal said he doesn’t want just anyone to get the items. Gandhi was a “great image of India,” and it was “real important” that his possessions belong to India, said Chatwal. Chatwal, who lives in New York, is the president and CEO of Hampshire Hotels and Resorts, a multi-national corporation based in New York. In the United States, he is a well-known supporter of Democratic Party causes and candidates. Former President Bill Clinton attended his son’s wedding in New Delhi, India, three years ago. A California-based collector, James Otis, is auctioning off the items and planned to meet with Indian government officials at the consulate in New York Wednesday to try to settle a row over ownership of the items. It was not clear Wednesday afternoon whether that meeting had taken place. Watch the controversy surrounding the auction ยป

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Otis said this week he would auction the items — which include Gandhi’s famous metal-rimmed glasses — on Thursday and donate the proceeds “to promote Gandhi’s great words and actions.” But he said the items would be donated to the Indian government if it was “willing to offer something very generous to India’s poorest in exchange.” The expected price of the items had skyrocketed to about $300,000 Wednesday, 10 times more than the estimated price on Tuesday, he added. “I will ask the Indian government if they would do a great gesture to the poorest of India, like those that we’ve all seen in ‘Slumdog Millionaire,'” Otis said, referring to the Academy Award-winning film. Gandhi, who waged a long struggle against British rule in India, was assassinated in New Delhi by a Hindu fanatic on January 30, 1948. He is still widely revered for his insistence on non-violent protest to achieve political and social progress. Otis said he did not fully understand the outrage over the planned auction because Gandhi was not interested in material possessions, many of his belongings are already in India’s museums, and Gandhi himself had often auctioned off gifts that he had received to raise money for the poor. The glasses are scheduled to be auctioned off at the Antiquorum auction house on New York’s Madison Avenue along with Gandhi’s pocketwatch, sandals, bowl, according to the Web site for Antiquorum, which specializes in watches. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the people that want to acquire it, I think, basically will pay whatever it takes for them to get those objects” said Julien Schaerer, with Antiquorum Auctioneers.

A court in New Delhi on Tuesday issued an injunction to stop the auction. India’s solicitor-general, Mohan Parasaran, said the ruling was based on a plea filed by a trust that he said cited itself as the “rightful beneficiary” of the articles under Gandhi’s will. He added that the order would be served to the auction house through the Indian consulate in New York.