Video: Sale of Gandhi's glasses stirs controversy

updated 3/5/2009 4:13:40 PM ET 2009-03-05T21:13:40

Mohandas Gandhi's personal items have been sold for $1.8 million at a New York City auction. But the seller had said he was withdrawing them — so the auctioneer has agreed to wait two weeks before finalizing the sale.

Furious bidding already was going on while the owner announced outside Antiquorum auction house that he was withdrawing the items.

The Indian government and Gandhi's family had worked to stop the sale because they believe the items "belong to the people of India."

The government had vowed to bid "whatever it takes" for the independence leader's possessions. The owner, peace activist James Otis, said he planned to sell them to raise money to promote pacifism.

The items also include Gandhi's worn leather sandals, a pocket watch and a simple brass bowl and plate.

India's government had rejected a proposal Thursday by Otis to halt the auction. Indian Junior Foreign Minister Anand Sharma said the demands, which included reallocating part of the national budget, infringed on the country's sovereignty.

Outcry in India
The planned auction of items raised an outcry in India, prompting the government to attempt to bring the pacifist icon's belongings back to his homeland.

Otis had said he planned to sell the Gandhi items to raise money to promote pacifism.

India's Culture Minister Ambika Soni decried the auction as "crass commercialization" of the ascetic leader's legacy.

Gandhi's round eyeglasses, a pair of worn leather sandals, an inexpensive pocket watch and a simple brass bowl and plate were scheduled to be sold in New York by Antiquorum Auctioneers as a single lot on Thursday, with an estimated low bid ranging from $20,000 to $30,000.

On Thursday, the Indian government rejected a draft agreement drawn up by Otis and representatives at India's Consulate General in New York.

Otis had been demanding that India raise its spending on the poor from 1 percent of its GDP to 5 percent, an estimated $50 billion.

Under the draft agreement India would commit to "substantially" raising its funding for poverty over the next decade. The second proposal was for India to fund a world tour of Gandhi-related items to raise awareness of the ideas of pacifism.

However, Sharma said these terms were not acceptable.

"The government of India, representing the sovereign people of this republic, cannot enter into such agreements where it involves specific areas of allocation of resources," Sharma said, adding Gandhi "would not have agreed to conditions."

Glasses reportedly given to army colonel
The auction house said Gandhi is believed to have given the eyeglasses and their leather case to an army colonel who had asked him for inspiration, telling him they were the "eyes" that had given him the vision to free India.

The timepiece is a 1910 Zenith sterling silver pocket watch with an alarm that Gandhi gave to his grandniece, Abha Gandhi.

Gandhi also gave the bowl and plate to his grandniece, who worked as his assistant for six years. Gandhi, who advocated nonviolent civil disobedience to resist British rule in India, died in her arms in 1948 after being shot by a Hindu radical.

The sandals were apparently given to a British military officer who photographed the leader in the Yemen port city of Aden, where Gandhi had stopped en route to England.

In 2007, a letter written by Gandhi was withdrawn from a London auction to allow the Indian government to acquire it.

In an auction last week in Paris, the Chinese government complained about the sale of two bronze fountainheads looted from a palace outside Beijing in 1860, saying it wanted them back. A Chinese art collector made the winning bid, but admitted Monday that the bid was bogus and said he wouldn't pay the $36 million.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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