Nehru Museum hopeful of acquiring Gandhi letter


New Delhi : Mahatma Gandhi's rare letter pleading for greater tolerance towards Muslims, which was saved from going under the hammer at Christie's in London at the 11th hour, is set to return to India with the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library hopeful of acquiring it.

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"It's a happy situation. We are happy that it has been saved from the auction," N. Gopalakrishnan, deputy director of the NMML, told IANS.

"We are hopeful of acquiring it. But it will be up to the Ahmedabad-based Navjiwan Trust to decide who will keep the manuscript," Gopalakrishnan said.

"We will be happy to keep the Gandhi letter as we already have a large number of letters written by the Mahatma," he added.

It's not, however, yet clear whether the government has decided to pay for the letter (which was expected to fetch $24,000 at the auction, scheduled for Tuesday), or whether they will put legal pressure to get the letter back on the ground that it is the property of Navjivan Trust that has the copyright over all Gandhi's writings, he said.

The media spotlight on Gandhi's letter may also revive interest in Gandhi's writings and some 25,000-odd letters written by him which are lying with the Nehru Memorial and Museum Library.

"Gandhi's letters should be accessible to all, not just in India but the world over. We hope all this media limelight rekindles interest in Gandhi's writings," Varsha Das, director of National Gandhi Museum, told IANS.

"Gandhi wrote not just for people in India but for the world," she added.

Das is, however, not sure whether hundreds of personal letters written by Gandhi to different people can be regarded as the property of the Navjivan Trust, the sole owner and legatee of Gandhi's writings.

"Gandhi wrote hundreds of personal letters to different individuals. It's their property. It's for them to decide," she said. In the same breath, she added that Gandhi's letters should not be auctioned as they are of historical interest.

Das recalled a letter Gandhi wrote in Gujarati to her mother who was then 15-years-old in which he spoke about universal human values like love and compassion. Instead of selfishly keeping the letter, she said she decided to gift it to Soko University Museum.

"It's beautifully displayed in the museum with a translation in English. It's now being seen and read by hundreds of people from all over the world who come to visit the museum," she said.

On Monday, Christie's withdrew the letter written by Gandhi 19 days before his 1948 assassination.

The decision to withdraw the letter comes after several meetings between various ministries of the Indian government, including the Ministry of Culture, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian high commission in London.

The external affairs ministry had asked the high commission to assist the culture ministry in attempts to get hold of the letter.

In the Jan 11, 1948, letter written for the "Harijan" newspaper, which he edited, Gandhi makes an emotive appeal for tolerance towards Muslims.

"My view remains unalterable especially at this critical juncture in our history. It is wrong to ruffle Muslim or any other person's feeling when there is no question of ethics," Gandhi wrote.

The Prime Minister's Office wrote to the culture ministry to acquire the letter after two Gandhians, Basant Kumar Birla and Satya Paul, brought to the notice of the government news of the proposed auction.

The rare letter is part of a collection titled "the Albin Schram Collection of Autograph Letters", a personal collection by Albin Schram, a Switzerland-based collector. It also includes some of the letters written by legends like Napoleon, Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.