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Gandhi's possessions go to India

INDIA'S government said yesterday it assisted an Indian businessman in his successful US$1.8 million bid for Mahatma Gandhi's eyeglasses and other items, despite initially calling the auction a "crass commercialization" of the pacifist leader's legacy.

An Indian court even filed an injunction in an attempt to prevent the auction in New York.

But the sale went ahead on Thursday and Toni Bedi, an executive of the Indian company UB Group, made the winning bid after a furious four minutes in which the offers raced from US$10,000 to US$1.8 million.

Bids came from the floor and by phone and via the Internet from overseas; none of the other bidders was identified.

"I'm very happy to inform you ... that the Indian government has successfully procured the personal items gifted by the father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi. We have been able to procure them through the services of an Indian who was in touch with us," Minister for Culture Ambika Soni told reporters in New Delhi yesterday.

The independence leader is often respectfully called "Mahatma" or "great soul." His real name was Mohandas.

Soni refused to say if the government provided any money in the bid, saying only that it had worked with the Dr Vijay Mallya, the CEO of the UB Group. Bedi said he was working on Mallya's instructions.

New Delhi had initially protested the auction, saying Gandhi's belongings - wire-rim eyeglasses, worn leather sandals, a pocket watch, a plate and the brass bowl from which he ate his final meal - should be returned to India, not sold to the highest bidder.

Before the sale, Soni told reporters that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had instructed her not to let a third party buy the items. Bedi said his company would donate the items to the Indian government to be displayed in New Delhi.


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