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High drama before Gandhi items' auction

New York, March 6 (IANS) Confusion prevailed for hours in the run up to Thursday's auction of Gandhi memorabilia as a throng of journalists gathered at the East 57th Street headquarters of Antiquorum Auctioneers handling the sale.

But shortly after 1 p.m., the auctioneers' chairman, Robert Maron, said that despite some news reports that Los Angeles collector James Otis had decided to pull out, the auction would proceed.

'There is a lot of propaganda because the Indian government is trying to get this item,' Maron was quoted as saying by the New York Times. 'The consigner has not pulled the item. The auction is not going to stop. In two hours, we'll know the outcome,' he said.

But around 2:30 p.m., Ravi Batra, a lawyer who said he was representing the owner, Otis, a peace activist, pro bono, entered the auction house, and announced that Otis was trying to halt the sale. Within an hour, Batra was booted from the auction house by employees, the Times said.

'Escorting me off the premises is the same as escorting James Otis and his wishes off the premises,' he said as he was leaving. He criticised the auction house for trying to make money on 'the altar of Gandhi's legacy.' Batra said: 'The right to sell belongs solely and singularly to James Otis and not to Antiquorum.'

Robert Maron, the chairman of the auction house, declined to comment on Otis's last-minute change of heart. 'We fully complied with the consigner's wishes,' he said, referring to Otis. 'We now have a fiduciary obligation to the buyer.'

The auction house argued that it was too late for Otis to withdraw from the sale. 'Anyone who consigns an item for sale has entered a legally binding agreement to put that item up for sale,' said Julien Schaerer, an official at the auction house. Asked if Otis had tried to pull the items out of the auction, Schaerer declined to comment.

Before the auction began, about 40 bidders had registered, from Australia, Germany, Austria, India, Canada and the US, among other countries. In comparison, there were only six registered bidders in October for a watch belonging to Albert Einstein, which sold for almost $600,000.

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