MEDIA

November 13, 2014

Negotiating the Fate of Gandhi Relics

Schlam Stone & Dolan LLP partners Jeffrey M. Eilender and Thomas A. Kissane represent James Otis, whose interests as a collector of artworks and memorabilia and as a peace activist overlapped as he gathered and subsequently offered for sale a group of items that had belonged to Mohandas Gandhi, father of today’s India.
When James Otis decided to auction off his Gandhi memorabilia he expected excitement but not so much controversy. The items he put on offer included a rare watch, which is the house specialty at Antiquorum Auctioneers on New York’s Madison Avenue, which conducted the auction, as well as eyeglasses, leather sandals, a brass bowl and a brass dish. According to the New York Times, Mr. Otis had hoped the auction would bring in funds to support peace movements the Mahatma might well have approved. But then developments took some surprising turns.
Mr. Otis soon realized events were unfolding in a manner that made him uncomfortable. After the Indian government expressed, through diplomatic channels, strong objections to the sale and an Indian court issued an injunction against it, Mr. Otis wrote the auction house stating that he wanted to withdraw the items from sale. The auction house proceeded, however, and in the end Vijay Mallya, whose business interests include Kingfisher beer and an airline, agreed to buy the items for a reported $1.8 million. Press accounts differ but in general the media seem to agree that Mr. Mallya said he would bring the Gandhi relics back to India and also make some arrangements that would provide public access if not public ownership.
By the time the auction had been completed (whether valid or not) the story had drawn attention worldwide.

Coverage of the case can be found here: