New York: Vijay Mallya, the Indian liquor baron behind Kingfisher Beer, paid $2.1 million (Rs10.81 crore) on Thursday for glasses, sandals and other items belonging to Mahatma Gandhi, an official at his company said.
Tony Bedi, president of the US branch of Bangalore-based United Breweries Holdings Ltd, the industrial group run by Mallya, beat a phone bidder to the objects at an auction hosted by Antiquorum. The items included Gandhi’s sandals, glasses, a pocket watch and a supper bowl.
“This belongs to India,” said Bedi, as he left the auction saleroom, still carrying the paddle No. 360 that he used to bid. “It should be going to India.”
Indian heritage: Tony Bedi (bottom right) makes the winning bid, on behalf of Vijay Mallya, for the items belonging to Mahatma Gandhi. Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters
James Otis, the collector who put the items up for auction, caused a diplomatic furore when he said on the eve of the auction that he would withdraw the items from the sale unless India increased its spending to fight poverty.
Before the auction, culture minister Ambika Soni said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had instructed to do whatever possible to repatriate the Gandhi items.
At a press conference in New Delhi on Friday, Soni said India had retrieved the items with Mallya’s help and that the government had stayed away from the bidding process to prevent the commercialization of such objects. “They are invaluable to India,” Soni said.
Tushar Gandhi, the leader’s great grandson, said he feels proud an Indian had bought the lot, according to ‘PTI’.
The objects were given by Gandhi to various acquaintances, according to the online catalogue of Antiquorum.
The sandals were reportedly given to a British army officer in Aden in 1931, after he photographed Gandhi at a peace conference. The dinner bowl and pocket watch were given to Gandhi’s niece and longtime personal assistant Abha.
Thursday’s bidding was mainly between Bedi, who spoke by phone as he raised his paddle, and the phone rival, said to be based in London.
Bidding paused at $800,000, then shot up to a final price of $1.8 million. With commission, the winner will pay $2.1 million for the items.
‘Forbes’ magazine said last year that Mallya’s net worth plunged to $390 million in November, from $1.6 billion in 2007. United Breweries has lost 79% of its market value since its peak on 24 September, 2007.
At an auction in London in September 2003, Mallya bought the sword of Tipu Sultan, who ruled the kingdom of Mysore in the late 18th century.
(Nabeel Mohideen in New Delhi contributed to this story.)