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Gift Diplomacy - Fostering Diplomatic Ties

Gifts have no ideology, only ideas of grandeur.”

From the Egyptian pharaohs, Renaissance-era European monarchs, imperial Chinese rulers, and the first peoples of America to modern-day state leaders. The Amarna Letters reveal that diplomatic gifts were at the heart of the international system for centuries. Gifting plays a pivotal role in establishing diplomatic ties among nations. The exchange of gifts enhances companionship between countries and conveys deep-seated intentions. Diplomatic gifts have some symbolism, such as their artistic value, emotional value, and cultural diversity. 

An Illustration on Gift Diplomacy - Fostering Diplomatic Ties

Illustration by The Geostrata

Throughout history, nations have used gift diplomacy to project their cultural identity and national values and establish a rapport that can transcend linguistic and political barriers. Animals also become common diplomatic gifts, such as China’s pandas, Japan’s dogs, and Russia’s cats. This contemporary case of gift diplomacy analyses its multifaceted functions, such as fostering goodwill, enhancing cultural exchanges, strengthening alliances, and manipulating perceptions. 

It's crucial to note that a diplomatic gift should balance two elements: the potential to show off the cultural and material riches of a country and the fulfilment of a diplomatically sensitive operation to send the right message, whether negative or positive. These gifts build up the credibility of a nation and promote domestic brands and craftsmanship globally.

Around 1884, the Statue of Liberty was gifted by the people of France to the people of the United States (US) to commemorate American independence, the drive for democracy, and the freedom of the nation’s slaves. Today, the statue is considered a symbol of democracy.

Kautilya’s Arthashastra defines six modes of shadguna, or diplomacy, and four upayas (methods) for conducting shadguna are also described as sama (conciliation), dana (gifts), bheda (dissension), and danda (force).  For the purpose of our discussion, the role of Dana, or gifts, is particularly relevant as it shows the close interconnection between gifting, diplomacy, and statecraft.

India’s gift diplomacy has evolved since the day India attained independence. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister was known for his ‘Elephant Diplomacy’, where India gifted elephants to Tokyo, Berlin, Amsterdam, and even a small town in Canada. PM Indira Gandhi and PM Rajeev Gandhi were known to have a taste for gifting Indian textiles.

In the 2000s, when Atal Behari Vajpayee became Prime Minister, during his visit to the US in 2003, he gifted then-President Bill Clinton a silk carpet. In 2004, his successor, Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister, and he gifted George W. Bush a marble table top inlaid with precious stones that reflected the colours of both the Indian and the American flags.

All these gifts emerged from an established bureaucratic process and focused on a narrow Indian cultural aspect and artistic sense. 

Our Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approach to gift diplomacy has leveraged it to strengthen diplomatic ties, showcase India's cultural heritage, and enhance the country's global image.

Modi’s 'Gift Diplomacy' is a celebration of the art and craft traditions of India, reflecting her diversity and culture. It also serves the purpose of inculcating the Indian cultural uniqueness and promoting the local artisans, as well as establishing personal rapport with the world leaders.

PM Modi himself selects the artefacts on each occasion. For instance, during his state visit to the USA, he presented the first edition print of the book, ‘The Ten Principal Upanishads’, published by Faber and Faber of London, to US President Joe Biden.

Apart from the thoughtful gift to President Biden, PM Modi presented a 7.5-carat green lab-grown diamond to US First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. This eco-friendly diamond has been designed to mimic earth-mined diamonds’ chemical and optical properties using cutting-edge technology. This carbon-efficient lab-grown diamond is certified by the gemological lab, IGI, and bears the hallmarks of excellence through the 4C’s: Cut, Colour, Carat, and Clarity.  

In 2022, when our honourable PM was a special invitee at the event, he carried artistic gifts for each of the G-7 leaders based on their taste. For instance, black pottery pieces from 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 his British counterpart, etc. 

The selection of gifts emanated from a concerted effort to find common links and celebrate shared traditions. To celebrate the shared Ramayana links between India and Indonesia, he gifted a lacquerware Ram Darbar to Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Thus, the gifts presented by PM Modi reflect India’s traditions and diverse culture, which date back thousands of years in ancient history.

Our gift diplomacy not only strengthens our strategic ties with our allies but also boosts the demand for rich cultural handicrafts. It encourages artisans and ancient artwork from India.

For instance, the “One District, One Product” initiative promotes indigenous specialised products and crafts by assisting artisans, besides helping them in marketing and branding at national and international levels.

Further, it exemplifies the depth of Indian bilateral relations with its allies, conveying a message of unity, diversity, and friendship. India's Gift Diplomacy symbolises India's cultural heritage while serving as a catalyst for strengthening bilateral ties and continuing to shape the world stage, fostering understanding and collaboration. 




1 Comment

Well articulated. Panda diplomacy is the cutest!

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