The Indian government has rescued a rare manuscript of a letter Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi wrote 19 days before his assassination in 1948 from being auctioned by British auction house Christie's and has paid a confidential sum for it.
The government of India is in possession of the manuscript (of the piece) Mahatma Gandhi had written 19 days before his assassination pleading for tolerance of Muslims in India (for his journal Harijan), PTI quoted a senior High Commission official in London as saying, July 3.
When asked whether any money was paid for acquiring the document, he said the government negotiated with the auctioneers and representatives of late the late owner, Albin Schram of Switzerland, an Austrian lawyer famous for his treasure trove of letters of some of the world's leading figures.
The conditions of the transaction have to be kept in confidence, he said.
The document, which was withdrawn by auctioneers Christie's after negotiations with the Indian government, was part of an extensive collection and a reserve price of Â£9,000 to Â£12,000 pounds was set for it.
The sale, which had been slated for July 3, was cancelled when the Indian government established that the ownership of the manuscript lies with the Ahmedabad-based Navjiwan Trust.
Reports say the Indian government's possible argument could be that Gandhi willed all writings to Navjivan Trust and the current ownership is therefore illegal.
The government acted in a similar manner in 1997 and successfully acquired another set of Gandhi's manuscripts.
Christie's, which had billed the auction of the manuscript as a major event, said the executors of Albin Schram had agreed to withdraw the manuscript. We are pleased to have facilitated the negotiations which have resulted in an important historical record returning to India, Dr. Amin Jaffer, International Director of Asian Art at Christie's said.
Christie's is acting as agents behind the vendors, facilitating the sellers and this should result as a national treasure returning to India, Christie's spokesperson Mathew Patton said.
The Indian High Commission declined to be drawn into the modalities of the proposed acquisition.
We're happy that at our request Christie's have agreed to withdraw the manuscript and we look forward to completing the process of acquiring this important manuscript on behalf of the Government of India expeditiously, it said.
The Indian government was greatly relieved to have secured the document finally especially after news that the document would be put up for auction sent the government in a tizzy, triggering immediate reaction from Gandhi supporters who urged the government to intervene in the matter immediately.
Pacifist Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who played a leading role in securing India's independence from Britain, is well known and loved by millions in India.
Written on January 11, 1948, the seven-page draft article appeared in the January 18 issue of Harijan.
It was written on the reverse of a memorandum submitted to Mahatma Gandhi on food distribution.
The manuscript has the Mahatma announcing his regret at having to discontinue publication of his mouthpiece, Harijan, in Urdu though he sees it as inevitable because of dwindling demand. The manuscript records Gandhi as writing: The dwindle was to me a sign of resentment against its publication... My view remains unalterable especially at this critical juncture in our history. It is wrong to ruffle Muslim or any other personâ€™s feeling when there is no question of ethics.
The Mahatma also urged Indians to learn Urdu scrip. The limitations of this script in terms of perfection are many. But for elegance and grace, it will equal any script in the world, Gandhi wrote, adding that it has great potential for the transcription of Sanskrit verses.
He said that any suggestion of a boycott of the Urdu script is a wanton affront upon Muslims of the Union who in the eyes of many Hindus have become aliens in their own land. This is copying the bad manners of Pakistan with a vengeance.