The government’s response to such situations in the past has been ad hoc, admits Lov Verma, joint secretary at the ministry of culture, and one of its solutions had been to "encourage NRIs who wanted to bid for the objects to return them to India". Sir Gulam Noon, the London-based "curry king", was one NRI who played a part in two such auctions. In 1993, he and Lord Raj Bagri, the former chairman of the London Metal Exchange, acquired a set of Gandhi documents for £14,000. In 1998 Noon and another wealthy NRI, Nat Puri, bought up a collection of 18 letters written by Gandhi between 1918-24 to Maulana Abdul Bari, the founder of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, for £21,172. On both occasions the memorabilia were returned to India, in the second case being formally presented to President K.R. Narayanan in 1999.
This piecemeal strategy of encouraging obliging NRIs to buy up historical objects received a jolt in May 2007 when Gandhi’s last letter came up for auction at Christie’s. Written for the Harijan on January 11, 1948, just 19 days before his assassination, and pleading for Hindu-Muslim unity, it had immense symbolic value and the auction created a furore. The Indian government protested strongly while, as a backup plan, a joint action was planned between the MEA and the culture ministry to bid for the letter if the protests failed. In the end, Christie’s pulled the letter out of the auction, allowing the government to acquire it.