India's government on Thursday rejected a proposal by the owner of Mohandas Gandhi's eyeglasses and other personal items to halt their upcoming sale at a New York auction house in exchange for commitments to fight poverty and promote nonviolence.
India's Junior Foreign Minister Anand Sharma said the demands that included reallocating parts of the national budget infringed on India's sovereignty.
The planned auction of items, which belong to collector and peace activist James Otis, has raised an outcry in India, prompting the government to attempt to bring the pacifist icon's belongings back to his homeland.
Gandhi's trademark round eyeglasses, a pair of worn leather sandals, an inexpensive pocket watch and a simple brass bowl and plate are 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 that had been 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 one 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 would be 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 that Gandhi “would not have agreed to conditions.”
Culture Minister Ambika Soni told the NDTV news channel that India would now likely bid for the items.
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.
Otis said he planned to sell the Gandhi items to raise money to promote pacifism.
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 summer 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.