Feature

India: An unseemly fight over Gandhi’s relics

What would Mahatma Gandhi have made of all the bickering over a handful of his possessions? asks Deepak Malghan in <em>Outlook.</em>

Deepak MalghanOutlook

What would Mahatma Gandhi have made of it all? asks Deepak Malghan. Recently a handful of the great man’s possessions—including Gandhi’s trademark round glasses, leather sandals, and a metal bowl he ate from—were put up for auction by California filmmaker James Otis. A lifelong admirer of Gandhi’s, Otis planned to donate the proceeds to good causes.

Yet the Indian government reacted with fury, calling the sale an insult to its national heritage. So Otis suggested that if the government agreed to devote extra spending on the poor, he’d hand over the items. The government refused. The Indian liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya then came to the rescue with his winning bid of $1.8 million, and offered the items to the nation. But no: Even then the government wasn’t happy, claiming that Mallya, a member of the opposition Janata Party, was exploiting the episode for political ends. Otis was so disgusted by the bickering, at one point he wanted to annul the sale.

And Gandhi? He’d have appreciated Otis’ attempt to draw attention to the poor, but been horrified by the political posturing. And, as an advocate of temperance, he’d have been “distraught” at a liquor baron’s winning the day. “For all the chest-thumping about national pride, this affair represents a low point in our public life.”

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