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Plan to Auction Gandhi Belongings Draws Criticism in India

A planned auction of some belongings of India's independence leader, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, has drawn sharp criticism in India and a plea for them to be returned to the country. His followers say the sale of his items runs contrary to the ideals espoused by one of the great leader's of modern times.

The items belonging to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, which are to go on the auction block next month in New York, include a pair of well-worn leather sandals, an inexpensive pocket watch, his trademark wire-frame spectacles and a brass bowl and plate.

Gandhi is a national icon who led a peaceful independence struggle against British colonial rule. He inspired uncounted Indians to join a civil disobedience campaign. His philosophy of non-violence inspired several similar resistance movements.

Items to be sold for private collector

The auction house, Antiquorum Auctioneers, is selling Gandhi's items for a private foreign collector. It says the sale is significant because the ascetic leader had few possessions.

Gandhi's followers in India say this is the very reason his belongings should not be sold for profit. They point out that Gandhi barely possessed anything, because he was a staunch opponent of materialism and consumerism.

Ramachandra Rahi, secretary-general of the Gandhi Memorial Foundation in New Delhi, says it is ironic that a price is being put on the belongings of a man who preached the ideal of simple living.

Rahi says in the market-oriented society that has emerged today, everything is for sale. He says this is particularly so in the United States, although the same is happening in India. Rahi says this is not correct. He says, if Gandhi is acknowledged as a great leader, his possessions should be put in museums anywhere in the world, so that future generations can draw inspiration from his life and ideals.

The significance of what goes under the hammer has been underlined by the auction house. Gandhi gave his eyeglasses to an army colonel who asked him for inspiration, saying they were the "eyes" that had given him the vision to free India. He kept a watch because he valued punctuality. The brass plate and bowl were the dishes from which he ate a simple meal.

Grandson says items should be displayed as natural treasures

Gandhi's great grandson, Tushar Gandhi, says the items must come back to India and be displayed as national treasures. He has launched a campaign to raise money to bid for them at the auction. He says Gandhi holds a special place in the heart of Indians and that his belongings have a sentimental value for the country.

"These are the symbols of a person whom we have learnt to worship, and I think these things must be back in India so that generations to come will feel a closeness to him, will be inspired," Gandhi said. "Because, even today anywhere in the world, you draw a sketch of wire rimmed glasses and show it to anybody, and the first thing they will see is Gandhi. So, these are very closely connected with his identity and the rightful place for them is in India."

Tushar Gandhi is racing against time to collect the money. The auction takes place in early March. But he says many people have responded to his plea and donated amounts ranging from one dollar to $2000.

"People have come up to me and said we can only give you 50 rupees [one dollar] will you accept that? I think that is what is very important," Gandhi noted. "These ordinary people are going that extra bit…a driver, a farmer, an unemployed youth they all ask one question, they make one request. They say promise us you will bring this back."

Several members of parliament have also called on the government to buy the relics.

Rahi of Gandhi Memorial Foundation says the occasion of the auction of Gandhi's items is an appropriate time for the world to recall one of his messages.

Gandhi had said the world has enough to satisfy every man's need, but not for every man's greed.

Gandhi was killed by a Hindu fanatic in 1948, a year after India became independent.