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Israel’s Modi chrysanthemum shows how diplomacy flowers

LiveMint logoLiveMint 05-07-2017 Nikita Doval

New Delhi: In diplomacy everything is of import, the words spoken or the ones left unsaid; the deals signed, or the ones that fell through. Then of course there are gestures that can range from naming of roads to the naming of a flower after the visiting leader as Israel did with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The first stop on the Prime Minister’s itinerary after landing in Tel Aviv was the Danziger flower farm, one of Israel’s leading floriculture companies. The visit, which saw a new strain of white chrysanthemum being named after Modi, according to a news report in The Jerusalem Post, was also meant to highlight “one of India’s key interests in closer co-operation with Israel in its expertise in agricultural technology.”

What Israel did this week with Modi has actually been a very important part of Singapore’s international outreach. Known in some circles as “Orchid diplomacy” it refers to the country’s practice of naming specially cultivated orchid varieties after visiting dignitaries, both political leaders and celebrities. There was an orchid named after Modi when he visited the country in 2015, but Amitabh Bachchan actually beat him to it by 11 years.

Gestures in diplomacy may not count for much but they do convey intent apart from being a reflection of how the host country views its visitors and wants to be viewed in return. During Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in April this year, Delhi’s Park Street was re-named Sheikh Mujibur Rahman road to celebrate India’s friendship with Bangladesh.

Delhi has quite a proud tradition of roads named after different international leaders from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to Nelson Mandela. It even has one named after Josep Broz Tito, the former Yugoslavian leader who is now widely dis-credited in his own native states.

“Gestures, gifts, these are all part of relationship building. Animal diplomacy was and continues to be an accepted practice. Rajiv Gandhi gifted Sri Lanka an elephant, Indira Gandhi, a white tiger to the then USSR. As foreign minister, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Jaswant Singh received a gift of two horses from Saudi Arabia in 2001,” says a retired diplomat who did not wish to be identified.

International diplomacy is also defined to a great extent by the leader of each country and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has introduced a very personal style in his, according to former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. From the bear hugs to the hand-holding, Modi has made these his signature.

Sometimes however nomenclature diplomacy, especially when practised by non-state actors can lead to some embarrassment. A few weeks ago Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of Sulabh International, a social service organization that works in the field of sanitation, decided to “symbolically” re-name Marora village in Mewat, Haryana to Trump Sulabh village in order to celebrate its defecation free status. The decision was taken to coincide with Modi’s meeting with US President Donald Trump. The renaming has since then been declared as “illegal” and fictitious.

Clearly diplomacy should be left to the diplomats.

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