India to bid for independence Gandhi's letter

As a letter pleading for tolerance from independence leader Mohandas Gandhi toward Muslims will be auctioned by Christie's in London next month India will bid for it, a Culture Ministry official said Thursday.

It asked the New Delhi-based Nehru Memorial Museum and Library to request that India's embassy in London either get the letter directly from Christie's or else bid for it at the July 3 auction, the official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk to reporters.

The Gandhi letter, expected to fetch up to US$24,000 (EUR18,000), was written to an Indian magazine 19 days before his assassination in New Delhi by a Hindu hard-liner in January 1948.

Public pressure has mounted for the government to obtain the letter after Christie's auctioneers said earlier this month that it was part of a private collection up for auction in London in July.

Gandhi pleaded for tolerance toward Muslims as the subcontinent was divided into Pakistan and India in 1947 amid devastating violence as British colonialists left after ruling for more than two centuries. Some 10 million Hindus and Muslims were displaced, and hundreds of thousands died in religious riots that accompanied the partition.

Confirming that the Indian government would bid for the letter, Information and Broadcasting Minister P.R. Dasmunsi said the External Affairs Ministry has cleared the proposal, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Christie's auctioneers said the extensive private collection includes a love letter from Napoleon, words of comfort from John Donne and a plea for tolerance from Gandhi. The collection was quietly amassed over three decades by the late Albin Schram, who kept them in a filing cabinet in his home in Lausanne, Switzerland, according to Christie's.