From fasting to freedom: Gandhi scribblings set to fetch pounds 1m

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Handwritten papers belonging to Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian leader, have come to light for the first time since his assassination nearly 50 years ago.

The 70 speeches, articles and draft letters document the last momentous months of the life of the man who, more than any other, helped to secure Indian independence. They are expected to fetch up to pounds 800,000 at auction. Their whereabouts had been unknown until they resurfaced at Phillips after being in the possession of one of Gandhi's secretaries for almost five decades.

The auction house describes the collection - much of it scribbled in English on the back of envelopes, circulars and recycled letters - as ranking with the great presidential archives and the Churchill papers.

Felix Pryor, Phillips' manuscript consultant, said yesterday: "Any single document from this archive, were it to have appeared on its own, would have been considered exceptional."

Among the papers to be sold on 14 November is a speech elaborating Gandhi's motives for his "last fast", which began on 13 January 1948, and was considered by many to be the supreme act of his life.

Gandhi, who vowed not to eat until peace was restored to Delhi, wrote: "At once I saw that I had to be in Delhi and do or die ... No man, if he is pure, has anything more precious to give than his life."

Also under the hammer is the prologue to Gandhi's will and a draft letter to Lord Mountbatten, written shortly before independence, in which he expresses his dismay at the viceroy's support of the partition of India.

"I pointed to the initial mistake of the British being party to splitting India into two. It is not possible to undo the mistake ... [But] the very admirable doctrine of fair play ... demands that I do not help the mistaken party to fancy that the mistake was no mistake."

Prophetically, a draft speech by the man who was assassinated in New Delhi on 30 January 1948 also addresses the fear that the British remaining in India would be murdered.

"All promise of protection by authority in isolated places is vain - it simply cannot be done, no matter how efficient the military and police machine may be, which, it must be admitted, it is not."

Proceeds of the sale will go to a Hindu charitable foundation.