Updated: July 4, 2022 9:12:41 pm
When he met the G-7 leaders during their recent Summit in Germany, Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented them art and craft pieces sourced from various parts of the country. The tradition of exchanging gifts and return gifts among the world leaders has always been a significant feature in global diplomacy.
One such remarkable exchanges of gifts took place in the mid-fifties, when the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gifted mango saplings to Zhou Enlai, the Chinese premier. This was a return gift to Zhou Enlai, who had sent a pair of spotted deer, a pair of red crested cranes and one hundred gold fish, as a present to Nehru on his 65th birthday on November 14, 1954.
The National Archive of India has made public the records of “Gift of Mango Saplings from the Prime Minister of India to the Government of China”.
The proposal to send mango saplings to Zhou Enlai was mooted by the Indian ambassador to Peking (now Beijing), who suggested that New Delhi should send some mango saplings as a return gift for its planting by the Chinese government in the People’s Park at Canton (now known as Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong). This idea was however initially dropped as the winter had already set in and the weather was then not suitable for planting mangoes in China. However, in the following summer, it was again revived.
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On April 29, 1955, R Goburdhun from the Indian embassy in Peking sent a letter to T N Kaul, the then joint secretary in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) to remind him about their December 1954 correspondence regarding the gift of mango saplings for the Chinese government. “I wonder if any steps could now be taken to fulfill our promise of the gift of mango saplings for Canton,” Goburdhun wrote. “We have of late been asking for and receiving various gifts and scientific specimens from the Government of China and it is time that we return the favours.”
In May 1955, the inter-department process began to send mango saplings to China via Hong Kong by air freight in late May-early June, with letters and telegrams exchanged between various government departments concerned.
On May 18, 1955, Harbansh Lal, the MEA under secretary, wrote to Peshori Lal Malhotra, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) under secretary, asking him to “collect a few saplings of different varieties” of mangoes. Two days later, Malhotra phoned Ramesh Chandar, garden superintendent, Green House, Botany Division, in this regard. On May 23, 1955, he wrote to the ICAR director, urging him to arrange 11 saplings.
On May 27, 1955, Lal circulated a note seeking the finance ministry’s approval for incurring an expenditure of about Rs 600 on sending 11 mango saplings of different varieties to China. An in-principal approval for it was obtained from the finance ministry. It was proposed that these saplings will be first delivered to Hong Kong by air freight and from there an Indian cultural delegation, that was scheduled to visit China early June 1955, would take them to Peking.
The MEA directed the ICAR to arrange the mango saplings, which asked its botany division to keep the 11 mango saplings ready by May 31, 1955.
Finally, two crates containing 8 mango saplings, including Summer Bahist Chausa (2), Dasheri (3), Langra (1) and Alphonso (2), were sent by the Air India International’s flight No. 155 from Delhi on May 31, 1955, for Bombay (now Mumbai), from where they were sent to Hong Kong via Calcutta (now Kolkata) on its
June 4-5 flight. Chausa, Dasheri and Langra are mainly grown in Uttar Pradesh while Alphanso is produced in Maharashtra. Special instructions were issued to the Collector of Customs at Palam Airport in Delhi for necessary clearance of the consignment.
A day before shipping the consignment, an MEA official sent a telegram to the Indian embassy in Peking announcing that the leader of the Indian cultural delegation would present these saplings to the Canton mayor and that they should inform the Chinese government about it. The Indian embassy responded by a telegram confirming that the Chinese officials have been informed. However, the embassy officials requested the ministry to increase the number of saplings, saying that “eight will be considered too small.” A day later, the MEA conveyed to the embassy that the saplings were sent for “experimental purpose” and “if proved successful more will be sent later”.
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Meanwhile, the MEA officials also sent a telegram to the Indian officials in Hong Kong that the saplings consignment would reach there on June 5, 1955, and that they should collect it from the airport.
Along with the two crates of the mango saplings, a one-page note on “Instructions Regarding Mango Cultivation” was also sent, which had detailed instructions on preparing the soil for mango plantation and caring the plants. The note was prepared by the head of the ICAR’s botany division. Two crates weighing 70.74 kgs containing fresh mango saplings were sent. All the saplings were certified to be “fit”.
On July 25, 1955, the MEA’s accountant general issued orders to pay the bill of Rs 480 on account of air freight charges on the mango saplings consignment sent from Delhi to Hong Kong.
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