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Now, Otis offers to donate more Gandhi items
WASHINGTON: US collector James Otis has offered to donate a few more of Mahatma Gandhi's belongings to India provided New Delhi agrees to his proposal to substantially increase its spending on healthcare for the poor.

"I have other Gandhi belongings. I would like to donate more items to the people of India to raise money for the poor," said the Los Angeles based activist whose collection of five Gandhi items was bought by Indian liquor baron Vijay Mallya in a New York auction for $1.8 million.

"I had put up the items for auction for the cause of the poor," Otis said in a telephone interview from New York. "I will be getting $1 million from the auction. I will be donating every single penny of it for the cause of the underprivileged including those in India."

The other Gandhi items in his possession include a 1934 letter written in green crayon and signed Bapu, and the Mahatma's last pathological blood report signed by Dr. B. L. Taneja of the Irwin Hospital dated "21/1/48", nine days before his assassination.

The letter reads: "My dear Dorothy, Thank god the fast went off as well as it did. I am slowly but steadily gaining strength. Love. Bapu. 1934."

Otis said he also has a 1924 telegram addressed to Gandhi by one Enayatullah, managing agent Tai company, Karachi with the Mahatma's scribbled response.

The telegram reads: "Please stay with me when you come to Karachi. It will be good for noble cause." To which Gandhi responds: "Thanks but before I come... I must know the cause..."

According to Otis, Gandhi used to scribble his responses on telegrams. The telegraph people would translate it and send back the original telegram for his records.

His colleague Lester Kurtz, a professor at George Mason University who also has a collection of Gandhi memorabilia, would also like to donate a unique sample of Gandhi's blood from the site of his assassination mixed with ashes from his cremation.

Otis said they had not yet approached the Indian government with a fresh proposal that essentially remains the same that he had mooted to withdraw the Gandhi items from the New York auction.

He had also suggested that India sponsor a 78-country travelling exhibition of Gandhi memorabilia.

"I have more items of other great people associated with non-violence," he said. These include a letter from Dr. Martin Luther King asking for support for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, a United Farm Workers flag signed by Cesar Chavez, Jane Addam's comb and brush from Hull House.

'Priceless Gandhi treasure should have fetched $10m'

Otis says he is happy that some items from his collection of Gandhi memorabilia are going back to India, but feels the priceless treasure should have fetched at least $10 million for the cause of the underprivileged.

"I am very happy that the items will be going back to India," he said. "But I am also a little sad that it fetched so little. Gandhi's items are priceless. It should have fetched seven eight million, ten million for the promotion of non-violent causes."

As for the auctioned items, it was now for the US government to determine to whom it will go - to the Indian government or the buyer. People can put in their legal claims as the Indian govt has done, he said.

But "I am not resisting as I have signed a legal contract with the auction house", said Otis who had at the last minute made an abortive bid to withdraw his collection from the New York auction Thursday.

Asked what happened in the hours leading up to the auction amid high drama, Otis said he had gone to the auction house to stop it. But the owner of Antiquorum Auctioneers did not agree.

"I thought the owner would readily return the items thinking that things had gone quite out of hand. But he said 'I wouldn't give them back to you' as I had signed a legal contract with him," Otis said. "He insisted on his legal rights."

His friend Kurtz had been in negotiations with the Indian consul general in New York, Prabhu Dayal. "We were with him for a good three hours on Wednesday. He had agreed in principle to our proposal. And said he would be sending it to Delhi and get back to us."

But when "we woke up (Thursday) and didn't hear from them. I went to the auction house with my attorneys to tell them that I want to withdraw the items."

Otis said he did not contact the Indian consulate Thursday, but Kurtz had called Dayal to thank him later for the "wonderful outcome."

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