By K.S. Tomar
A gift is a medium for expressing affection, appreciation, and gratitude. When it comes to diplomacy, a gift to a foreign dignitary has all the more significant as it represents inherent messages about the relationship, cordiality, and bonhomie between the countries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi not only hugs the world leaders regularly but carries the generous gift of symbolic representation of India to the guest or host nation when he receives or visits a foreign dignitary. Personal chemistry is an important aspect that PM Modi has added to Indian diplomacy for cementing the ties and improving understanding while dealing with issues during dialogues.
Modi’s gifts diplomacy is also a celebration of art and craft traditions of India reflecting her diversity and VIBGYOR culture. It also serves the purpose of inculcating Indian cultural uniqueness and promoting the local artisans besides establishing personal rapport with the world leaders.
Modi reportedly clears the artifacts himself on each occasion. PM Modi had gifted a ‘Gulabi Meenakari’ brooch and cufflink set to President Joe Biden and a matching brooch for the first lady Jill Biden at the recently concluded G-7 summit. Gulabi Meenakari is a geographical indicator (GI) tagged art form of Varanasi, PM Modi’s parliamentary constituency in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The artwork involves a piece of pure silver molded into a base form for the chosen design to be embossed in the metal by hand.
PM Modi carried artistic gifts for each of the G-7 leaders, based on their taste. Modi gifted black pottery pieces of Nizamabad in Azamgarh to Japanese PM Fumio Kishida, a Nandi-themed Dokra art piece sourced from Chhattisgarh to Argentina President Alberto Fernandez, and a hand-painted tea set from Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr to British PM Boris Johnson.
A selection of ittar (perfume) bottles from Kannauj packed in a custom-made zardozi box was presented to the French President Emmanuel Macron, a metal Marodi carving Matka (a pitcher) from Moradabad to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and a handmade knotted silk carpet from Kashmir to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau at the G-7 Summit despite his non-action against anti-India forces in his country.
The choice of selection of PM Modi’s gifts emanated from a concerted effort to find common links and celebrate shared traditions. Against this backdrop, to celebrate the shared Ramayana links between India and Indonesia, PM Modi gifted a lacquerware Ram Darbar to Indonesian President Joko Widodo. The GI-tagged lacquerware art-form has its roots in the temple town of Varanasi in UP. According to belief, the Indonesian version of Ramayana – known as Kakawin Ramayana – had been written during the Medang Kingdom during the 8-11th century in Central Java. Thus gifts by PM Modi also reflect India’s traditions and culture which date back thousands of years in ancient history.
Modi had earlier gifted Sanjhi art, a hand-carved box with Rogan paintings, Pattamadai silk mats, and Gond art paintings to the Quad leaders in Tokyo. Sanjhi is the art of hand-cutting designs on paper which has got roots in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. The motifs display stories of Lord Krishna in stencils that are cut free using scissors or a blade. Delicate Sanjhi art is often held together by thin sheets of paper.
To promote the artisans and ancient artwork from India, PM Modi’s pushed for the “One District One Product” initiative when he took over in 2014. It encourages indigenous specialized products and crafts by assisting artisans besides helping them in marketing and banding at international or national levels. ODOP exports in recent times have exceeded Rs1.40 lakh crore per annum. This is expected to witness an upward swing in the future with PM Modi’s gift diplomacy adding to the phenomenon.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Shimla, India)