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India 'helped win Gandhi auction'

Mahatma Gandhi
India said it worked with the buyer to procure the items

India says it helped a businessman buy belongings of Mahatma Gandhi at a controversial auction in New York.

Delhi said its culture and external affairs ministry worked with Vijay Mallya to procure the items for India for $1.8m (1.27m).

Mahatma Gandhi's great grandson says he is "delighted" that the personal effects will now return to India.

The auction went ahead despite protests from Delhi and a last-minute bid by the seller to halt proceedings.

Mr Mallya bought the iconic round glasses, a pocket watch, leather sandals, plate and bowl.

'A miracle'

Culture Minister Ambika Soni said that "the government had procured the five personal articles through the services of Mr Mallya".

Sandals

Ms Soni said the government could not directly take part in the bid because there was a Delhi High Court order against the auction or sale of Mahatma Gandhi's belongings.

The items were "procured through the services of an Indian, Vijay Mallya" and his representative was "in touch with us", she told reporters in Delhi.

"The culture ministry working in close cooperation with the ministry of external affairs succeeded" in getting the Mahatma's memorabilia, Ms Soni said.

Gandhi's great grandson Tushar said on Indian television: "I am delighted, absolutely delighted that Vijay Mallya bought these things and they will now come back to India."

Gandhi pocket watch
Gandhi had few possessions
Mr Gandhi said he was worried that something might go wrong at the auction a the Antiquorum auction house in New York.

Asked if he was surprised at Mr Mallya's bid, he said: "I won't say that I was very surprised. I think at the back of my mind I was hoping that something like this will happen because I always believed that miracles do happen and I think this is a miracle that has happened."

The auction had led to uproar in India, with one minister calling it "gross commercialisation".

The seller, James Otis, a California-based collector, had said he wanted to raise money to promote pacifism.

He had earlier said he would withdraw the items from the auction and donate them to India if the Indian government allocated 5% of its budgetary spending for the poor. India rejected his conditions.

Gandhi said his spectacles gave him "the vision to free India". The watch was given to him by Indira Gandhi. The plate and the bowl were the ones from which he took his last meal before he was murdered, Tushar Gandhi said.

"The sandals he made with his own hands," Mr Gandhi said.

Mahatma Gandhi is widely revered in India as the leader of the independence movement against British rule.

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