The provincial treasury or the 'toshakhana' is a repository of articles or gifts received by public servants in an official capacity to the state. Starting 27 January, nearly 1,800 mementoes presented to Prime Minister Narendra Modi from 2014 onwards are going under the hammer.
For the first two days, the auction is being held at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi, that sits on the road circling India Gate, and on the other two days, the items will be listed for online bidding on the government-run website openauction.gov.in.
The proceeds from the sale are going towards Namami Gange — National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG). These gifts with base prices ranging from 2,000 to 40,000 are a tiny drop in the grand Ganga plan (which has an outlay budget of Rs 20,000) but even on a Sunday, they drew over a hundred bidders to the gallery.
Inside a small auditorium attached to the gallery, people raised their ballot cards bidding over Rs 11,000 for a silver-plated memento of the statue of unity that the prime minister received from Mahendra Bagria, SP, Narmada District, and close to Rs 5,000 for a photograph of the prime minister, gifted by two Kuwaitis Krupa Bhatt and Riddhiraj Kumar.
“The MEA doesn’t keep records of gifts given by individuals. We have displayed gifts given by individuals along with those given by institutions like universities and hospitals, ministries, local governments,” explained Dr Jyoti Mallik, curator at the gallery.
Biresh Raheja, one of the bidders who participated on Sunday's auction, said, "I came here to support the truth there is to Namami Gange." Raheja claims that waste-water recycling is the way to save the Ganga and that he pledges his support to this mission not just through bids inside a cosy hall but by reaching out to officials at the ground level.
A 1978 Gazette states that each gift received by public servants is assessed by the Ministry of External Affairs and a rate is assigned to it as against its worth in the Indian market.
In 2015, a reply to an application filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act revealed that a large number of expensive gift items are languishing in the treasury for decades. The reply showed that over 1,400 gifts are lying in the toshakhana, some for over 30 years, for which six proposals were unsuccessfully mooted for auctioning.
As on 1 November, 2014, the data showed that the toshakhana had an inventory of 1,429 gifts and the last auction of such items had been held no less than 33 years ago.
Proposals were made to hold auctions at least six times in 1985, 1988, 1994, 1998, 2000 and 2002 but none materialised. The list of gifts, the RTI revealed, featured Rolex watches, exquisite French cut-glass lamps and diamond and gold jewellery.
The items on display, in the current exhibition at NGMA, however, are a lot less exquisite. Adwaita Ghadanayak, director general of the gallery, says that, perhaps, that is exactly what's drawing people towards the auction.
On display at the gallery are moments from prime minister’s Narendra Modi's public interactions at Hidimba Devi Temple in Manali, Vir Abdul Hamid Trust in Odisha, and Bihar’s Road, Transport and Water Resources department. There are also hand-drawn portraits of the prime minister, framed verses eulogising him, pictures from his several rallies bunched into collages, a Bollywood art comparing Modi to Anil Kapoor in the movie Nayak, and a painting of Modi with Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekanand and Sardar Vallabbhai Patel.
Along with these are hundreds of dushalas and shawls and pagris made from silk and cotton from different parts of India. There's also a wall featuring Assamese jaapis.
"We had been planning this exhibition since September. Initially, we were given 200 objects and the auction was going to be online but then it was decided that a wider audience can be attracted to a physical auction,” said Dr Mallik, pointing towards a life-size wooden bike as the most expensive object on display with a base price of Rs 40,000.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Feb 04, 2019 15:06:50 IST