From 2014 to 2020: Foreign gifts received by Modi, 230 others value at Pak Rs483.2m only

December 08, 2022

LAHORE: As the Islamabad High Court is all set to hear Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s appeal against the Election Commission of Pakistan ’s decision in the Toshakhana Reference after it...

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LAHORE: As the Islamabad High Court (IHC) is all set to hear Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) appeal against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s decision in the Toshakhana Reference after it accepted the deposed premier Imran Khan’s application for an early hearing, all political pundits have their eyes glued on this case of paramount importance.

While the PTI had challenged the verdict of ECP in the Toshakhana scandal in which Imran Khan stands disqualified for not declaring the sale of gifts received during his 1,333-day long tenure in his documents submitted to the ECP, the electoral watchdog has already scheduled the hearing to remove the former prime minister as the party chief on December 13 and has issued him a notice for the same.

Let us see what happens in neighbouring India when it comes to receiving foreign gifts or reciprocating the diplomatic gestures:

According to the August 31, 2020 edition of a reputed Indian financial daily newspaper, “Mint,” which is published by the Delhi-based Hindustan Times Media Group and controlled by the K. K. Birla family, between 2014 and 2020, the incumbent Indian Premier Narendra Modi and around 230 individuals across ministries and the bureaucracy had received almost 2,800 gifts valued at Indian Rs177.4 million, which is roughly or equivalent to Pakistani Rs483.2 million only — a figure that is not even peanuts if one looks at the value of the diplomatic offerings gleefully received by their Pakistani counterparts.

And over 60% of all diplomatic gifts were valued at less than Indian Rs5,000! On the contrary, not long ago, a Dubai-based businessman had claimed that Imran Khan’s close aides had sold a luxury watch gifted to the Pakistani former prime minister Imran Khan by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman at a throwaway price. Imran’s front men were alleged to have sold the expensive limited edition Graff wristwatch, a gold pen, ring and cufflinks worth at least Rs2 billion to the Dubai-based collector for as little as $2 million.

The Mint newspaper had stated: “A silver diamond emerald jewellery set worth Indian Rs67 million (Pakistani Rupees 182.5 million) given to the late Sushma Swaraj in 2019 when she was the Minister of External Affairs was the costliest gift of the period.”

The Indian media house had added: “Valued at Indian Rupees 3.5 million (Pakistani Rupees 9.53 million), a box containing a necklace and earrings received by PM Modi himself in 2015 is among the most expensive of the lot. Cufflinks, crockery, mementos, cultural artefacts, paintings, photos, gadgets, sarees and kurtas, and even liquor have made it to India’s shores in the suitcases of returning ministers and bureaucrats. So have personalised gifts, such as an image of Modi on marble stone and a poem about him in Hindi. Unsurprisingly, officials from the foreign ministry contribute the most to the Toshakhana. Modi has over 650 gifts to his name since taking oath, followed by Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman. However, who gives the gifts is treated as sensitive information, and is outside the ambit of even the Right to Information Act.”

The Mint newspaper had revealed: “The Toshakhana additions since 2014 boast of some unusual gifts too, such as secret intelligence files, an 18th-century sword belonging to Nazafi dynasty of West Bengal, a framed page from Mahatma Gandhi’s diary along with his photographs, a cricket bat, a ball autographed by an international cricket team, and sacred water from Lake Mansarovar in a brass container. Not to forget, a model of the bullet train and a silver bullock cart.” In India, after officials deposit their gifts to the Toshakhana, their commercial value is assessed, in accordance with the Foreign Contribution (Acceptance or Retention of Gifts or Presentations) Rules, 2012. The recipient can take their gift home if they want to but they need to pay if the assessed value is above Indian Rs5,000. Most gifts remain in the Toshakhana and some are displayed in the National Museum.

The newspaper being quoted and cited here had further asserted: “Data logs show that only 592 of the 2,770 gifts—mostly mementos, personal gifts and cheaper cultural artefacts and paintings—since June 2014 went back home to the recipient. But most were not of commercial value or cost less than Indian Rs5,000. Only 41 needed extra payments, fetching the Toshakhana Indian Rs3.52 lakh in total.” Research shows that since Premier Jawaharlal Nehru’s time, Indian rulers have been known to dispatch elephants and mangoes as gifts to friendly nations. However, Narendra Modi began as prime minister by giving the Bhagavad Gita to global leaders, including Japanese Emperor Akihito. According to a May 25, 2022 report of India TV, Narendra Modi makes it a point to promote India’s rich and diverse culture whenever he meets foreign dignitaries.

The news channel had reported: “He is known to give gift items that are demonstrative of the tradition and heritage of the country. It is said PM Modi gifted a Rogan painting, the art of cloth printing practised in Gujarat’s Kutch, to Danish queen Margrethe, a silver meenakari bird figure from Banaras to crown princess Mary and a brass tree of life from Rajasthan to his Finland counterpart on the sidelines of the 2nd India-Nordic Summit in Denmark’s capital city Copenhagen.” This electronic media outlet, a Hindi news channel based in Noida city of Uttar Pradesh, maintained: “He also gifted a dhokra boat from Chhattisgarh to crown prince Frederik of Denmark. Dokra is non–ferrous metal casting using the lost-wax casting technique. This sort of metal casting has been used in India for over 4,000 years and is still used. The Indian prime minister presented a pashmina stole from Jammu and Kashmir to his Swedish counterpart.” Research further shows that former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, had received gifts worth over Indian Rs2.9 lakh (Pak Rs7.90 lakhs) during his trips in 2011. Interestingly, he seemed to have a fondness for tea sets. According to a report appearing in The Indian Express, he retained five tea sets. Manmohan Singh was gifted a Rolex watch valued at Indian Rs9 lakh (Pak Rs24.50 lakhs) and Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi was presented a gold necklace valued at Indian Rs7.04 lakh (Pak Rs19.2 lakhs). However, both these items were deposited at the Toshakhana. Sonia Gandhi was also presented with a Franek Muller, Geneve wrist watch in January 2014 (Valued at Indian Rs6 lakh Pak Rs16.34 lakhs). This gift too is preserved in the Indian treasury vaults. According to a British newspaper Telegraph, former prime minister Manmohan Singh had gifted US President Barack Obama books; and first lady Michelle Obama received a pashmina shawl.

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