A collection of 4,600 rare photographs of Mahatma Gandhi are to be sold and, once again, and the seller is Gandhian Peter Ruhe. This time, however, the photo collection will not be auctioned but sold to the buyer in a privately-negotiated deal known in auctioneer’s parlance as ‘a private sale’.
It seems that Ruhe has opted for ‘private sale’ because auction of Gandhi memorabilia in the past had caused a huge controversy in India. Sources said another reason for the ‘private sale’ could be that Ruhe has not taken permission from the heirs of the copyright holders of the material.
Documents in the possession of DNA reveal that a collection of 4,600 photos together with negatives, commercially produced postcards and other reproductions, along with other material on the Mahatma are on sale. The asking price for the entire collection is £500,000 (approximately Rs4.30 crore).
A lengthy 16-page brochure prepared by Sotheby’s (the London-based auction house which is handling the private sale) mentions that the photographs were taken by Kanu Gandhi and Vithalbhai Jhaveri.
The collection includes images of Gandhi as a child, as a young lawyer in Western attire and as the leader of Satyagraha in South Africa. In several photographs, he is in India, wearing a dhoti and round spectacles. The collection also includes a 16 mm and 8 mm film footage and a copy of a photograph of Gandhi as a child.
According to information available, Peter Ruhe is going to be the sole beneficiary of this sale. Ruhe claims that he has “bought or was gifted these photographs by its original holders or heirs.”
However, family members of the photographer, the late Kanu Gandhi, denied his claim. “We have not sold or given any material to Peter. He used to come to Rajkot and talk to Abhaben. He was provided full access to the entire collection of Kanubhai by my mother. He used to live on the same premises for days and do his work. He may have got access to the photographs there,” said Geeta Mehta, adopted daughter of Abha and Kanu Gandhi.
Kanu Gandhi was the Mahatma’s nephew who spent time with Gandhiji from 1932 and 1948. With the blessings of Bapu, Kanu married Abha. After Gandhiji’s assassination in 1948, he shifted to Rajkot and was engaged in various activities based on Gandhi’s principles at Kasturbadham and Rashtriyashala in Rajkot until his death in 1986.
Despite every effort, the heirs of Vithalbhai Jhaveri could not be contacted. Vithal Jhaveri was a film-maker and writer who was involved in the freedom struggle from the time of the Dandi march and was one of the founders of a radio service for the Congress in 1942.
He also directed a documentary titled, Mahatma: Life of Gandhi, in 1968. He had also co-authored a book on Gandhiji.
Ruhe’s rich collection
Peter Ruhe has more than 12,000 photographs of Gandhiji which, he claims, he has collected from various people across India.
He had written to the Sabarmati Ashram Trust in March 2007, offering to sell rare pictures and film footage of Mahatma Gandhi for 8 lakh euros (Rs5.5 cr).
Incidentally, Ruhe had made the offer almost soon after the Centre had announced a grant of Rs10 crore for the Ashram, as budgetary allocation for 2007-08.