Gandhian legacy sullied

Published: March 6, 2009 - 11:21 Updated: March 6, 2009 - 12:49

By Sanjay Kapoor , New Delhi, Hardnews

Something is really wrong somewhere. All of yesterday we read in the newspapers and watched on TV government of India expressing its steely resolve to prevent the auction of Mahatma Gandhis’s memorabilia. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office was supposed to be keeping a close watch on the happenings in New York and Los Angeles- where the auction took place. Today’s morning newspapers joyfully were announcing how these efforts had paid off and the auction would not take place.
News coming in from Los Angeles told a different story though. Gandhi’s iconic belongings that came under the gavel were picked up from the proceeds of liquor money put up by United Breweries Chairman Vijay Mallya. He snapped them up for a whopping $ 1.8 million. Gandhi, who all his fight championed prohibition and taught his followers about the evils of liquor consumption, would be turning in his grave with the way his prized legacy was saved by the beer baron. One wonders when poor Gandhi’s loin cloth will be bid!
Congress led government should be ashamed that they allowed a teetotaler, prohibitionist Mahatma’s considerable legacy to be sullied by someone who preaches values that are diametrically opposite.
American film maker and collector, Otis, who owned these antiques, would go laughing to the bank and so would his PR agency that kicked up such a fabulous global campaign about how Gandhi’s belongings had to be rescued by the Indian government.
Television images show that there were other bidders too in Los Angeles. Sant Singh Chatwal, an hotelier with a dubious past, was also present there. He had promised to go up to $ 1 million to pick up Gandhi’s steel framed glasses and zenith watch. Chatwal and Mallya, Hardnews learns, represented “plan B” for the Indian government if efforts to stop the auction did not work.
It is not clear under what circumstances Mallya put up the money to clinch the bid, but he has given an impression of being cash strapped. Not, too, long ago he had sought relief from the government for his recession hit airline. His company had claimed that they did not have the money to repay landing fees to Airport Authority of India. The cheques that were given to the government company were undated and unsigned. One believes that that Mallya’s company has made amends since then.
The beer baron’s “service to the nation” is unlikely to go unrewarded. It will be interesting to see how the hedonist "King of Good Times", Mallya spins his Gandhian acquisition.