Gandhi's legacy to return home as Mallya wins bid
upset when Gandhi's items sold for USD 1.8 million to Indian Businessman
Hours after high drama and frenzied bidding, Mahatma Gandhi's personal
belongings were bought for USD 1.8 million (Rs 9.3 crore) by industrialist
Vijay Mallya, who said he "bidded for the country" at
the auction after last-ditch attempts by India to stall the sale
of the memorabilia fell through.
Just before the auction, owner of the items James Otis had agreed
to withdraw them from the auction but the auction house did not
agree. It argued that it could have a big liability if it allowed
the items to be withdrawn from the auction as more than 30 bidders
had already registered for them and some have even sent in written
As soon as the auctioneer announced sold, a large number of Indian-Americans
who had come to witness the auction or to bid burst into loud round
Tony Bedi (C), Atul Kumari (R), representatives
for winning bidder Vijay Mallya, who owns Kingfisher beer, along
with Indian businessman Sant Chatwal (L) walk down the street after
winning a controversial auction of Indian independence leader Mahatma
Gandhi's memorabilia March 5, 2009 in New York City. Gandhi's iconic
round glasses, watch and other items sold for 1.8 million USD to
Mallya, in spite of an order to cancel the sale by owner James Otis
and an uproar in India. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should
read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)... http://channels.isp.netscape.com/celebrity/bigpic.jsp?cap=Toni+Braxton&id=3
Vijay Mallya is an Indian businessman and Rajya Sabha
MP. He is the son of industrialist Vittal Mallya, he is the Chairman
of the United Breweries Group and Kingfisher Airlines, which draws
its name from United Breweries Group's flagship beer brand, Kingfisher.
As of 2008, Mallya was ranked as the 362nd richest person in the
world and the 7th in India with a net worth of US$1.2 billion.
Mallya is originally from the town of Bantwal, Mangalore in Karnataka.
The auction activity was suspended for several minutes as the community
leaders congratulated each other.
The community leaders expressed relief that the promise of keeping
Gandhi's iconic items, including his glasses, sandals, pocket watch,
plate and a bowl, in India has been fulfilled.
But the sale would take two weeks to finalise. The items would
be kept with the Auctioneer for two weeks to resolve any claims.
Tony Bedi, who bidded on behalf of Mallya said that he was "bidding
for the country" and this sale means that Gandhi's items would
now return to India.
The US Justice Department, whose intervention was sought by the
Indian government to implement the injunction issued by the Delhi
High Court against auction of Gandhi's belongings, had earlier sent
a notice to Antiquorum Auctioneers that items be not transferred
to the buyer and kept in escrow account until it takes a view on
the Indian request. But it had allowed the auction go on.
Just before Gandhi's items went under hammer, the auctioneer explained
the position and said it plans to keep the items for two weeks pending
the decision of the Justice Department.
Mallya's move came as a total surprise as his name was never mentioned
among those who might bid for the items.
The bid on the floor was made by his representative Bedi and it
was not until the auction was over that the liquor baron's name
surfaced to the surprise of everyone present.
One of the bidders was a South African, who was very much interested
in the items.
Bids were received over the phone and Internet from overseas. None
of the bidders were identified.
So much interest was aroused that the auctioneers showed a small
clip of Gandhi's everyday activities before bringing his belongings
to auction. And the bid increased so fast that it was impossible
to keep track.
Within three minutes, the bid had reached USD one million. After
that it slowed downed a bit but picked pace against.
Once it reached USD 1.8 million, the person auctioning the items
waited for quite a while before bringing down the hammer.
Originally, Antiquorum Auctioneers had fixed the base price of
the items between USD 20,000 and 30,000 but the media hype and interest
shown by the Indian government helped to shoot up the prices and
bid itself began around USD 300,000.
After the auction, Chairman of the auction house Robert Maron
expressed satisfaction that the items would go back to India and
explained his position as to why the auction could not be stopped.
For hours before the auction started, Indian American leaders
had consultations on the strategy at the Indian Consulate here with
top Indian diplomats including Consul General Prabhu Dayal.
Talking to reporters, Sant Singh Chatwal, a leading hotelier and
community leader who took lead in the negotiations, said it was
decided that Indians would not bid against one another as it would
have sent up the price.
It was decided that Mallya would bid for the items, Chatwal said,
adding he had been in touch with him throughout.
Chatwal too had shown interest in bidding for the items and repeatedly
asserted that Indian American would not allow them to be bought
by a private collector.
During the auction process, Chatwal and Bedi were sitting side
by side and were seen consulting often.
Confusion over whether Otis could take the items off the hammer
prevailed with contradictory statements being made by him.
He had made a proposal with tough conditions to the Indian government
on Wednesday which, analysts said, were impossible for New Delhi
But even in the unlikely event of India accepting Otis' proposal,
in all probability, the auction still could not have been stopped
in view of the position taken by the auctioneers and in terms of
contract signed by him with them.
Though Otis' lawyer Ravi Batra said he would not take any action
for auctioneers going ahead with the auction despite his last minute
bid to stop it, the Antiquorum officials assert that Otis has no
case once he has handed over the items to them for sale under the
contact signed by him. (NZ-06/03)