The uproar over the Gandhi sale so soon after the Chinese shenanigans with the Zodiac bronzes suggests an a volatile new dynamic abroad. Though the Chinese claim they want the bronzes returned, their actions were more focused on spoiling an auction rather than repatriating the bronzes by any necessary means. The Gandhi reaction seems to follow the same pattern, the idea of offering a sensitive object that represents a nation’s heritage to open bidding offends. Here’s what the owner told The Daily Beast:
To collector James Otis, however, who is selling the items from his collection of thousands of pieces of Gandhi-related memorabilia, the controversy comes as a surprise. “I’m completely shocked,” Otis said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast. “My intent never was to create any sort of anger or animosity towards the auction, it was the opposite: to promote Gandhi’s words, actions, and to promote nonviolence in any way we can.”
Otis, a documentary filmmaker, activist, and avid collector (his Dr. Seuss collection is said to be among the world’s best), said that he had hoped the auction would encourage a renewed discussion of Gandhi’s message. [ . . . ] “Nobody’s contacted me at all,” Otis said. “I have a contract with the auction house to sell these items, but as you know you can make a deal prior the auction. I would be very happy to welcome any serious offers from the Indian government and it might not even have to be financial. There are things they could offer in terms of helping the people of India that I would more than welcome, for example improving health care for the poorest Indians in exchange for the items. I would welcome any ideas like that that would benefit the Indian people. We even set up an email today for offers so they could contact me directly, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Meanwhile, Otis appears to be overplaying his hand and moving the target. Here’s what he told The Times:
The general public, meanwhile, are outraged at the prospect of what they regard as sacred pieces of Indian heritage going to the highest bidder.
Through media interviews, Otis has told India that the only way to prevent the sale is to spend 5 per cent of its GDP – about $50 billion (£35billion) – on helping the poor.
Gandhi’s (Few) Possessions Go Up For Auction in New York (The Daily Beast)