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Indian Govt was nice to me: Otis on Gandhi auction

CNN-IBN
Mar 07, 2009 at 03:23am IST

New Delhi: The world witnessed high-voltage drama in New York's Manhattan as the Antiquorum Auction House on Thursday readied itself to up the curtains on the auction of Gandhi's items.

But James Otis, the owner of Gandhi’s items, called an unplanned, unscheduled press conference on the sidewalks just outside the auction house to announce that he was withdrawing from the auction.

But Otis's sudden u-turn wasn't acceptable to the auction house as there was big money at stake. Reserve price for Gandhi's items had already jumped up from $30,000 to $3,00,000.

So as India waited with baited breath to know who would finally own Gandhi’s belongings, liquor baron Vijay Mallya emerged from nowhere and bid and bought the Mahatma’s memorabilia.

As soon as the auctioneer announced that the consignment was sold, a large number of Indian-Americans who had come to witness the auction or to bid burst into a loud round of applause. India finally heaved a sigh of relief.

Hours after the auction, CNN-IBN spoke to Otis. Excerpts from the interview:

CNN-IBN:There are those who believe in India that perhaps you were not willing to give those items to India but at the last minute you did decide to call off the auction but it was too late. In the end would you say you are a happy man now knowing that the items are going to be returned back to India?

James Otis: Yes, I am very pleased not only for the Government but to all of those in India who wanted them back. And I am also very pleased because I earned over $1 million to be able to promote non-violent causes in Third World countries.

So, it is interesting and exciting that the outcome was what the government had asked. As you know, I was in negotiations with the ambassador and we were asking for something else to hopefully raise the GDP by a few percentage points to help the poor and get a 78-country international exhibition of Gandhi's works. So I do believe that this has been a win for everybody.

CNN-IBN:You did say of course that if the Indian Government funded you on a 78-country tour for 10 years, you would be willing to donate those items to India?

James Otis: I never dictated terms to the Indian Government. I and Dr Lester Kurtz of George Mason University, we met with the ambassador and his associates and we came up with ideas on what we might be able to accomplish if we were to exchange the items. Of course, personal citizens don't conduct terms and the idea that we came up with was an increase in funding for the poor which they had agreed to by principle on its first draft. And then they agreed to the 78-nation tour.

Again, we were not dictating anything. We gave them an idea, we spent over one-and-half hours in their office with a document. They then sent back the draft which they agreed to, to our hotel which were these two ideas. Of course, the Indian government was very thoughtful, kind and generous. The news had to be sent back to Delhi to get a final approval but it is very honourable that they want to increase their budget for the poor and support financially a 78-country tour. I think that is the most generous and loving thing to do for Gandhi.

Gandhi is now world news because of his great message of teaching us non-violence and solving international conflicts through such means. I believe world leaders need to hear this today because of the large economic recession.

CNN-IBNYou did say of course that you were earning more than 1 million dollars but then there is a possibility of an injunction coming into play and this entire auction being declared null and void, what then would be your position? Would you believe then that it would be a big loss for you?

James Otis: No, I don't think so. I think then the belongings would come back to me and then I would go back to the Indian Government and begin negotiations again. They were very kind. I looked into the ambassadors eyes, he was an honourable and good man and he wants the best for India and India's poor.

So when he told me and Dr Kurtz, he said that yes we will (we use the word 'substantially') increase the funding for the poor of India. And that he would go forward with this along with a fund for a 78-country tour. So, we will start negotiations again with whomever it is appropriate, call the state department for assistance or myself. We are waiting to get some assistance.

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