When he met the G-7 leaders at their recent summit in Germany, Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented them with pieces of arts and crafts from various parts of the country. The tradition of exchanging and returning gifts between world leaders has always been an important feature of global diplomacy.
One such remarkable gift exchange took place in the mid-1950s, when then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru presented mango seedlings to Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Prime Minister. It was a return gift to Zhou Enlai, who had sent a pair of spotted deer, a pair of crested cranes, and one hundred goldfish, as a gift to Nehru on his 65th birthday on November 14, 1954.
The National Archives of India has released the documents of the “Indian Prime Minister’s Gift of Mango Saplings to the Chinese Government”.
The proposal to send mango saplings to Zhou Enlai was mooted by the Indian Ambassador in Beijing (now Beijing), who suggested that New Delhi should send mango saplings as a return gift for his plantation by the Chinese government in People’s Park in Guangzhou (now known as Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong). This idea, however, was initially abandoned as winter had already set in and the weather was then not suitable for planting mangoes in China. However, the following summer it was revived again.
On April 29, 1955, R Goburdhun from the Indian Embassy in Peking sent a letter to TN Kaul, then Joint Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) reminding him of their December 1954 correspondence regarding the donation of young mango trees for the Chinese government. “I wonder if steps could now be taken to fulfill our pledge to donate mango saplings for Canton,” Goburdhun wrote. “We have recently requested and received various gifts and scientific specimens from the Chinese government and it is time for us to return the favor.”
In May 1955, the interdepartmental process began to send mango seedlings to China via Hong Kong by air freight in late May–early June, with letters and telegrams exchanged between the various departments involved.
On May 18, 1955, Harbansh Lal, the Undersecretary of the MEA, wrote to Peshori Lal Malhotra, the Undersecretary of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), asking him to “harvest some young trees of different varieties” of mangoes . Two days later, Malhotra telephoned Ramesh Chandar, Garden Superintendent, Green House, Botany Division, in this regard. On May 23, 1955, he wrote to the director of ICAR, urging him to lay out 11 saplings.
On May 27, 1955, Lal circulated a note seeking approval from the Ministry of Finance for incurring an expense of about 600 rupees for sending 11 mango seedlings of different varieties to China. Approval in principle has been obtained from the Ministry of Finance. It was proposed that these saplings would first be delivered to Hong Kong by air freight and from there an Indian cultural delegation, which was to travel to China in early June 1955, would take them to Beijing.
The MEA ordered ICAR to organize the mango saplings, which instructed its botany division to keep all 11 mango saplings ready by May 31, 1955.
Finally, two crates containing 8 mango seedlings, including Summer Bahist Chausa (2), Dasheri (3), Langra (1) and Alphonso (2), were sent by Air India International flight 155 from Delhi on 31 May 1955, for Bombay (now Mumbai), from where they were sent to Hong Kong via Calcutta (now Kolkata) on its
Flight of June 4 and 5. Chausa, Dasheri and Langra are mainly grown in Uttar Pradesh while Alphanso is produced in Maharashtra. Special instructions have been given to the Customs Collector at Palam Airport in Delhi for the necessary clearance of the consignment.
A day before the consignment was dispatched, an official from the MEA sent a telegram to the Indian Embassy in Beijing announcing that the head of the Indian cultural delegation would present these saplings to the mayor of Guangzhou and that they should inform the Chinese government. The Indian Embassy responded with a telegram confirming that Chinese officials have been informed. However, embassy officials asked the ministry to increase the number of saplings, saying “eight will be considered too small.” A day later, the MEA informed the Embassy that the saplings had been sent for “experimental purpose” and “if successful, more will be sent later”.
Newsletter | Click to get the best explainers of the day delivered to your inbox
Meanwhile, MEA officials also sent a telegram to Indian officials in Hong Kong stating that the consignment of saplings would reach there on June 5, 1955, and they should collect it from the airport.
In addition to the two crates of mango tree seedlings, a one-page “Instructions for Growing Mango Trees” note was also sent, containing detailed instructions on preparing the ground for planting mango trees and caring for them. Plant. The note was prepared by the head of the botanical division of ICAR. Two crates weighing 70.74 kg containing fresh mango seedlings were sent. All saplings have been certified as “suitable”.
On July 25, 1955, the Accountant General of MEA ordered to pay the bill of 480 rupees as air freight charges on the shipment of mango saplings sent from Delhi to Hong Kong.