Gandhi’s heritage returned to India

By Dr. (Ms) Sarojini Sahoo

At last, Mahatma Gandhi’s personal belongings including his iconic round-rimmed spectacles, sandals and pocket watch, the national heritage of India have been returned back to home. The round metal spectacles were a trademark of Gandhi’s persona and are basic to his illustrations to date. A simple line drawing of Gandhi’s face in profile with the glasses, accompanied by his famous quote — “be the change you want to be” — is recognised the world over. His pocket watch attached to a string attracted comment and is noticeable in the early 1930s photographs of Gandhi. The said belongings were subjected to auction sale by Antiquorum Auctioneers. ‘There was a lot of confusions and controversies because the Indian government was trying to get these items.’

Before the auction began, about 40 bidders had registered, from Australia, Germany, Austria, India, Canada and the US, among other countries. In comparison, there were only six registered bidders in October for a watch belonging to Albert Einstein, which sold for almost $600,000.
The above auction proposal was highly criticized by media houses for trying to make money on ‘the altar of Gandhi’s legacy.’ At the last moment, Los Angeles collector James Otis had decided to pull out the auction, but that was ruled out by the auctioneers’ chairman, Robert Maron.
Inside the auction room was a mix between elite Indian-born businessmen and diehard watch collectors. One of the potential bidders was Sant Singh Chatwal, an Indian-American businessman who is close to former president Bill Clinton.

‘I made up my mind to go up to maybe half a million,’ Chatwal, told the Times in a phone interview before the auction. ‘We’ll see how it goes.’
‘Anything when it comes to Gandhi is emotional, sentimental and patriotic when it comes to Indians,’ said Shyan Gulati, chief executive of the Infopeople Corp, an information technology company based on Wall Street. Describing the scene at the auction house as a Who’s Who of New York’s Indian elite, Gulati said: ‘In the last ten years, Indian professionals are doing extremely well all over the world and they’d like to contribute.’

Bidding began at $20,000 and rose to the final price within seven minutes. Finally, Indian liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya is very pleased with his purchase of a set of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal belongings including his iconic round-rimmed spectacles. Liqour tycoon Mr.Mallya expressed his happiness as he could bring the national heritage home. He purchased the items for $1.8 million.

Mahatma Gandhi was known for his anti alcohol propaganda. During India’s independence struggle against Britain, Mohandas K. Gandhi identified the consumption of alcohol as a major social evil and urged a ban on drinking. To respect his anti-alcohol ideas, the Indian Government wrote a section into the Constitution declaring its intention to enforce prohibition.

Vijay Mallya is an Indian businessman and Rajya Sabha MP and the Chairman of the United Breweries Group and Kingfisher Airlines, which draws its name from United Breweries Group’s flagship beer brand, Kingfisher. Mallya took over as Chairman of the United Breweries Group in 1983. Since then, the group has grown into a multi-national conglomerate of over sixty companies with an annual turnover which has increased by 639% to US $11.2 billion in 1998-1999. The focal business areas of the group encompass alcoholic beverages, life sciences, engineering, agriculture, chemicals, information technology, aviation and leisure. He owned McDowell Crest, which took loans in crores [1 crore = 10 million] of rupees from the general public.

In May 2007, United Breweries Group announced the all-cash acquisition of scotch whisky maker Whyte & Mackay for 595 million pounds (approximately 4,819 crore INR). In 2005 he took over Millennium Breweries Ltd (formerly known as inertia industries ltd), which owned the two premium beer brands named SANDPIPER and ZINGARO.

Besides liquor business, Mallya owned Kingfisher Airlines and F1 racing team Force India (earlier Spyker).He sponsors the East Bengal and Mohun Bagan football clubs in Kolkata and also in cricket he ssponsors the Royal Challengers Bangalore team in the Indian Premier League.
It is an irony that Mahatma Gandhi, who was known for his anti alcoholic views, had to depend upon a liquor tycoon to rescue his belongings.

Professor Sarojini Sahoo is an author and a feminist and can be reached at

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