The age-old South Asian tradition of mango diplomacy
Who would've guessed that the ‘king of fruits’ would help in sweetening ties among countries over centuries?
South Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been using this delicious fruit as a way to smoothen political relations by taking part in “mango diplomacy.”
BY MUSKAAN CHANDRAPOTA
Who would’ve guessed that the ‘king of fruits’ aka mangoes have helped in sweetening ties among countries over centuries? South Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been using this delicious fruit as a way to smoothen political relations by taking part in “mango diplomacy.” For the uninitiated, mango diplomacy is a term coined for when the famed fruits are used as a gesture of friendship and goodwill and presented as gifts by national or political leaders to each other. Here is a list of 8 instances of mango diplomacy around the world.
When Aurangzeb tried to win over Shah Abbas of Persia
The tale of mango diplomacy dates back to the Mughal era. The fruit was a symbol of power and prestige and a favorite of Shahjahan, Jahangir and Aurangzeb. At the time of his rule during the 17th century, Aurangzeb used mangoes as both currency and a form of diplomacy. He is believed to have offered mangoes to Shah Abbas of Persia to placate the king after he had proclaimed himself Emperor.. Later on, the King of Balkan too had offered Aurangzeb 200 camel loads of dry fruits and mangoes as a peace treaty.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s diplomatic tactics
The fruit was a favorite of Nehru as he carried forward the diplomatic tradition several times himself. Even though his personal preference was guavas from his hometown in erstwhile Allahabad, he understood the diplomatic importance of mangoes. In the 1950s, a gift of mangoes was given to any foreign leader who visited India and when it was his turn to travel abroad, Nehru brought mangoes. At that time Nehru transported mango saplings to foreign dignitaries to be sent overseas as gifts on occasion, when it may not have been mango season.
Pakistan to Mao Ze-Dong
In August 1968, the first crate of Pakistani mangoes arrived in China as a gift to President Mao Zedong. Then-Pakistani Foreign Minister, Mian Arshad Hussain— who was also high commissioner to India in Beijing earlier— gifted a crate of mangoes to Chairman Mao Zedong, around the time of the Cultural Revolution – of the Communist Party of China (CPC) workers.
The fruit wasn’t tasted by Mao but passed on to workers affiliated with the Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team. These exotic fruits were unheard of in 1960s China and briefly played an important role in Cultural Revolution discourse, as the physical expression of Mao’s love and concern for his people at the time.
“The mangoes were transported nationwide, despite their deterioration in the summer heat; they were replicated in wax and placed in glass vitrines for presentation and display; paintings and photographs of the fruit became objects of veneration; and they appeared as an auspicious motif on the ubiquitous Mao badges, on quilts, on household goods, and on floats at public ceremonies,” states the book “Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution” edited by historian and curator Alfreda Murck.
The events that transpired due to this unique first crate of mangoes were termed as “mango fever” or the “cult of the mango.”
Zia ul Haq to Indira Gandhi
In 1981 Pakistani President Zia ul Haq sent a basket of mangoes to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The mangoes sent this time were Anwar Rataul mangoes— this popular mango variety is known in Pakistan as Anwar Rataul and in India as Rataul. Both variants are named after a place in Uttar Pradesh, and had local sin both nations fighting over the ownership of its legacy.
Manmohan Singh to US President George Bush
When US President George Bush visited New Delhi in India in 2006, he expressed his desire to try Indian mangoes. India is the largest exporter of the king of fruits in the world. At that time, there was a ban on Indian mango exports to the US for almost two decades. Manmohan Singh offered mangoes to the US President, who famously said, “The US is looking forward to eating Indian mangoes,” inspiring a deal that would allow Indian mangoes to be exported to the US. After this, the first consignment of mangoes that landed in Washington was of the Alphonso and Kesari mangoes.
This helped strengthen the relationship between the two countries as both the Indian and American institutions began undertaking joint agricultural research projects.
Pakistan continues its age-old tradition, started in the 1980s, of sending mangoes to Indian leaders, however, India does not always respond to this exchange.
On Eid 2015, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent 10kgs of mangoes to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Further, 15kgs to President Pranab Mukherjee and 10kgs each to former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee was also sent.
This exchange however failed to reduce the cross border tensions at the time.
In March 2021, in what is known as Dhaka’s mango diplomacy move, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sent over 2,600kgs of mangoes as gifts to President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Tripura CM Biplab Deb. The delicious Haribhanga mangoes, grown in Bangladesh’s Rangpur district, were transported at a time when Bangladeshi officials were growing concerned over India’s decision to cease vaccine exports in late March.
The gift was appreciated by the ministers with PM Narendra Modi saying how “touched” he was by this “thoughtful gesture” in a letter he wrote to her. Mamata Banerjee wrote to the top leader, addressing her as “Hasina Di” saying, “I like the mangoes you had sent. I heard about Rangpur’s ‘Haribhanga’ mangoes, but I never had the opportunity to taste one. I have distributed the mangoes to everybody. The mangoes brought with them your love and the essence of Bangladesh.” Modi’s first and only international visit since the Covid-19 outbreak was to Dhaka in March of that year.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to PM Narendra Modi
Keeping her tradition alive since she first became the Chief Minister in 2011, Mamata Banerjee had sent Bengal’s pick of mango varieties – Himsagar, Malda and Lakshmanbhog to PM Modi towards the end of June 2021. This was at the time of the finished Assembly elections in West Bengal, when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi fought a fierce election for the state, in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered a devastating defeat. Mamata Banerjee was re-elected as Chief Minister after the TMC won a landslide victory. The gifting of the mangoes of West Bengal was a gesture of goodwill towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Courtesy: C. N. Traveller