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Gandhi's memorabilia auctioned at high prices

By unknown | Apr 09, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

AHMEDABAD - The Beatles removed Mahatma Gandhi's picture from the 1967 album cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in case it upset Indians, but such restraint is now a thing of the past.

Today, Gandhi memorabilia is auctioned off in New York and London with his scant personal items attracting high prices, while his image is used on pens, billboards and souvenirs.

"People want to buy every piece of history associated with the great man," says Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of India's independence leader

"Anything that comes with a 'Gandhi' tag sells, and India has not been able to protect the items belonging to the father of the nation."

The auction in the US last year of Gandhi's glasses, leather sandals, pocket watch, metal plate and bowl triggered a major public debate over exploitation of his memory.

The Indian government first tried to prevent the auction and then seemed ready to buy the items itself, before Indian industrialist and liquor baron Vijay Mallaya stepped in with a winning bid of $1,8million, about R14million.

For many Indians the contrast is stark between Gandhi's simple, anti-materialistic lifestyle and the commercial frenzy over his paltry belongings and saintly image.

In South Africa, a house where Gandhi lived sold last year to a French tourism company Voyageurs du Monde for $377000, about R2,8million - far above the norm for a small house with a thatched roof in Johannesburg.

Gandhi only occupied it for a few years, but the company is planning to open the building as a museum and guest house.

In one recent row, luxury brand Montblanc in February suspended sales in India of a "Gandhi" pen that cost $25000.

The limited-edition pen was launched to supposedly mark the anniversary of Gandhi's 1930 protest march from Ahmedabad against a salt tax imposed by the British government, a key episode in his non-violent campaign for independence.

Montblanc hoped that the pen "honouring" Gandhi would help it tap into India's wealthiest consumers, but instead it ended up in court over laws that say government permission is needed to use Gandhi's image.

The pen, which had an engraving of Gandhi on the nib, was withdrawn from sale and Montblanc issued an apology.

India's ministry of culture say it is preparing further legislation to prevent Gandhi's belongings being traded for money and to protect his image from being misused.

The reality is more complicated, Gandhi experts point out.

Gandhi often gifted his belongings to friends, family and even casual visitors, says Varsha Das, director of the National Gandhi Museum in New Delhi. "If people want to sell them and make money, then there is no way one can stop them."

Das suggested that instead of chasing Gandhi items around the world, the government would be better to "preserve his real assets - non-violence and peace". - AFP


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