Monday, March 9, 2009

Vijay Mallya Wins Bid For Gandhi’s Legacy

In an ironical twist to the event, it was left to liquor baron Vijay Mallya to bid over Rs. 10 crore ($2 million), which includes the commission to be paid to the auction house in New York, to buy the lot of personal belongings of Mahatma Gandhi that were put on auction by Los Angeles-based filmmaker and pacifist, James Otis.The other items were worn leather sandals, a pocket watch, a plate and a bowl, all belonging to the Mahatma Gandhi.

Mallya, who had at an earlier auction in London paid Rs. 4 crore for the sword of Tipu Sultan, has paid two and a half times that amount to take home a pair of sandals, a Zenith pocket watch, a plate, bowl and the spectacles that Mahatma Gandhi is claimed to have used.
The personal items could be sold to the Government of India, if it wanted to pay for them, Mallya indicated his plan to gift them to the government. He wanted the items to be displayed in a museum in either Bangaluru or Mysore.
In a will prepared apparently in February, 1940, the Mahatma had declared Ahmedabad-based Navjivan Trust, founded by him in 1929, to be his heirs.
The irony was not lost on people because the Mahatma considered consumption of alcohol to be a major social evil and had consistently urged for a ban on drinking. In deference to the Mahatma, the Indian Constitution carries the goal of Prohibition as a Directive Principle of State Policy.
Spiritual Pantheon
The US Justice Department, whose intervention was sought by the Indian Government to implement the injunction issued by the Delhi High Court against the auction, had earlier sent a notice to Antiquorum Auctioneers. The notice stated that the items should not be transferred to the buyer but kept in an escrow account until it took a view on the Indian request.
The Delhi High Court too added its bit to soothe hurt national feelings when, regardless of its jurisdiction, it stayed the auction in New York. While New Delhi's problem may be solved with the return of the auctioned items, it is a little difficult to understand the brouhaha over the possessions of a man who never cared much for them. The items will, most likely, become saintly relics used to deepen the cult of veneration for the man known as the Father of the Nation.
Gandhi's legacy is actually a double one. Being the Father of the Nation, if we are to take that metaphor seriously, pitches him squarely in the realm of politics. But the cult of veneration gives him an aura of saintliness, when spirituality ought to belong to a different realm than politics. In the context of India's spiritual pantheon which includes such figures as Buddha, Kabir, Shankara, Mirabai, Guru Nanak, Chaitanya, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Gandhi's case looks weak.
Reflecting Gandhi’s Legacy
It is time to reflect on the way we as a nation treat the Mahatma. We have put his ideas of non-violence and simple living, along with his personal belongings in museums. which some of us visit only on October 2. For most Indians the day is nothing more than a national holiday. A town here and a city there has a road named after the Mahatma, which we have, for our convenience, reduced to “MG Road”.
Anyway, interest in Gandhi has revived lately, thanks partly to the film “Lage Raho Munnabhai”. That the idea of putting a price on Gandhi’s ordinary belongings should outrage so many in the country shows that Gandhi-giri is still alive.

No comments: