montblanc boutique Safeguarding Gandhi and Tagore
Commemorative pens and decades old paintings are a marginal issue in the face of official inaction over gas leak tragedies, rail mishaps, spiralling inflation and the statute on sexual harassment. Nonetheless, the recent controversies embroiling the good name of Mahatma Gandhi and the artworks of Rabindranath Tagore have exposed a bitter truth. When the Centre is either ignorant of the laws, or not vigilant enough to enforce them, the result is a needless, ill informed dispute that takes its toll on everyone: the public exchequer, officials and courts.
The Tagore paintings, which fetched million at a Sotheby auction, are a case in point. Even before the paintings went under the hammer,
there was a lot of hand wringing in West Bengal, whose CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wrote to Manmohan Singh urging him to bring the paintings back to India.
Our Antiques and Art Treasures (AAT) Act, 1972, does empower it to compulsorily acquire such antiquities and treasures. The Act, however, has in built limitations. Since Tagore began painting late in life, his works would scarcely pass the 100 year threshold for an object to qualify as an for the purpose of the AAT Act.
Also, to be deemed an treasure the Act requires the government to declare and notify the work as such, which apparently has not been done for those paintings. Most fundamentally, the Act is applicable only within the territorial limits of India. The paintings were,
from all accounts, the Gurudev personal gifts to his British friends, and so the question of their illegal export or acquisition does not arise.
The government last minute decision to fly out a senior official to London to try and dissuade unsuccessfully the Sotheby officials from auctioning the paintings was, therefore, dubious and costly. More than the costs involved, it resulted in avoidable embarrassment for the nation, even if it may have served the Congress Party ends to appease regional chauvinism in West Bengal.
The Centre apathy caused an unnecessary escalation of the Gandhi pen issue. Here was Mont Blanc, a Swiss German multinational, seeking to hawk exclusive edition pens at US$25,000 apiece a price rendered all the more ludicrous by its association with a man who made austerity his life credo. The company attempt was ultimately thwarted,
but not before two public interest litigations (PILs) were elaborately heard in the Kerala high court and the Supreme Court, forcing the Centre to deny permission to Mont Blanc under section 3 of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950, which forbids the use of certain names and images for commercial purposes, and explicitly lists Gandhi among those names.
Why did New Delhi fail to clamp down on Mont Blanc during the run up to the sale? The statutory violation was clear. And the campaign was no secret. Giant hoardings with Gandhi picture and the pen conspicuously lined several of the country major highways and roads. Only later, when confronted by court orders and spooked by the prospect of a negative fallout close on the heels of its failures over inflation and the Maoist movement, did the government suddenly turn sanctimonious and nationalistic.
Mont Blanc should consider itself fortunate that it got away with a mere verbal proscription for its latest Indian mis adventure. Had CEO Lutz Bethge and his ilk attempted a similar mischief with an emblem of a less country like say, the United Arab Emirates, they would have spent a year in prison and been fined 100,000 dirhams. Which,
by sheer cosmic coincidence, approximates the price of an exclusive Gandhi pen.