Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Friday, 27 March 2009

US man sorry over Gandhi auction

James Otis
I am sorry if I angered anyone in India. It was never my intention to gain profit
James Otis

The US collector who this month sold rare belongings of Mahatma Gandhi has apologised in Delhi for "unintentional hurt" to Indian sentiments.

James Otis said the money raised from the auction would go to groups promoting Gandhian values.

He said the items had not arrived in India because of a row over taxes.

Businessman Vijay Mallya and the Indian culture ministry bought Gandhi's iconic round glasses, a pocket watch, sandals, plate and bowl for $1.8m (£1.27m).

'Speak out'

"I need to apologise because it hurt me that anyone would see my name and think I was doing it for profit," Mr Otis said in the Indian capital.

"I couldn't have dreamt of the worldwide attention that [the sale of] the belongings has sparked. I never intended to come out openly to discuss what I had done by selling the items, but when I heard my name was being hated by many in India I needed to speak out."


He pointed out that Mahatma Gandhi "auctioned items all his life, that's why I followed his lead".

"He was an auctioneer," Mr Otis said. "People would come into a town and give Gandhi things and he would go into the next town and sell them for lots of money.

"But he only believed in it on a not-for-profit basis - if he could then he would give the money to untouchables (lower caste people) or to other good causes he was involved in."

Mr Otis insisted that the sale was not done for his personal benefit because "I have quite enough money in my life".

The California-based collector also said that although the items were now in Mr Mallya's possession, they had not yet arrived in India.

"They are somewhere in between," he said. "I hear the government of India is giving Mr Mallya a hard time with export tax. I hope they know how generous Mr Mallya has been to spend $2 million on buying these beautiful precious heirlooms, the treasures of India.

"And I hope they release the excise taxes, [because] these items should now be in India, they should be shared by all."

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

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

Before the auction went ahead Mr Otis offered to withdraw the items and donate them to India if the Indian government allocated 5% of its budgetary spending for the poor. India rejected his conditions.

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

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