There is perhaps a lesson in the way the government has gone about trying to acquire a private letter, written by Mahatma Gandhi 19 days before he was assassinated, which is being auctioned at Christie’s on 3 July. Just like effective diplomacy is sometimes about sending subtle signals, a good bidder shouldn’t let slip that he is desperate for the object at hand. It is a safe bet now that the letter, which was valued at around £12,000, will attract a lot more interest from bidders, potentially driving up the price, even if the Indian government wanted to bid at the auction.
It is an entirely different matter whether taxpayers’ money ought to be spent on an auction. Perhaps the right response from the Prime Minister would have been to ask rich industrialists, such as Basant Kumar Birla, who sought the government’s intervention in this matter, to simply bid for the letter and then donate it to an Indian museum. Are Swraj Paul, Lakshmi Mittal and Srichand Hinduja listening?