Gandhi's sandals up for auction in Britain

LONDON (AFP) - A pair of sandals formerly owned by India's independence hero Mahatma Gandhi is to go under the hammer in Britain later this month.

Auction house Mullock's said the battered leather shoes, due to be sold on May 21, were expected to fetch up to £15,000 (S$28,600) despite being "in a bad state".

The scandals are among the star lots in "one of the largest collections of memorabilia relating to Mr Mahatma Gandhi ever to be offered", the auction house in Shropshire, central England, said.

The collection also includes Mr Gandhi's will - written "in a neat secretarial hand" and signed by him in Gujerati - which is expected to sell for up to £40,000, as well as a shawl hand-woven from thread that he spun himself.

Other items up for sale include letters, paintings, prints, audio recordings of Mr Gandhi's speeches, and a fragment of his blood on a microscope slide.

The auction house said the sandals had come from Mr Gandhi's home in Juhu, western India, where he lived between 1917 and 1934.

Mr Gandhi's sandals were an instantly recognisable part of his image along with his glasses, loin-cloth, shawl and staff.

Sandals also feature in a story that is often used to illustrate the independence icon's personal philosophy.

Running to catch a train, Mr Gandhi supposedly lost one of his sandals. Unable to snatch it from the platform as he sped away on the train, he decided to throw the other one after it so that someone could use them - a classic example of his practical generosity.

A pair of Gandhi's sandals and also a pocket watch, a bowl and a plate that belonged to him were bought for US$1.8 million (S$2.2 million) by an Indian businessman at an auction in New York in 2009.

India has in the past fretted about private auctions of Mr Gandhi's belongings, saying that they insult the memory of a man who rejected material wealth.

Auctions of his personal items often raise an uproar at home, where many feel the items are part of their cultural legacy.

Known as Mahatma or Great Soul, Mr Mohanchand Karamdas Gandhi spearheaded a non-violent campaign against the British Raj which finally saw India gain its freedom from colonial rule in 1947.

He was shot dead by a Hindu hardliner in New Delhi in 1948.