Prettiest Gita of them all? PM Modi's khadi covered gift to Obama was extra special

When Narendra Modi gifted a Bhagvad Gita to the Japanese emperor he quipped that television talk-shows would create a “toofan” of controversy about it. But actually there’s nothing controversial about gifting the Gita. It’s a lovely and thoughtful gift especially for a powerful politician who probably has everything.

You can never go wrong with a book that inspires. It’s far better than a tacky replica of the Taj Mahal, does not take up too much space and as Modi rather touchingly said he gives a Gita to maharajas and prime ministers “(b)ecause I don’t think I have anything more to give and the world has anything more to get than this.”

The Gita is turning out to be quite the gift for all seasons when it comes to Modi and world leaders. Everyone needs a Gita and there’s a Gita for everyone.

Xi Jinping got a Gita in Mandarin and Shinzo Abe got a Gita in Japanese. And Obama got a very special Mahatma Gandhi version with a khadi cover.

Not all Gita gifts are equal: PIB

Not all Gita gifts are equal: PIB

The Gideon society is famous for placing Bibles in hotel rooms around the US. Narendra Modi has surpassed them in a diplomatic masterstroke by placing Gitas in the chambers of power around the world. Going by his track record, by the time Modi’s tenure ends there will be a Gita in practically every prime ministerial or presidential residence around the world. Or perhaps more than one since Modi will likely meet some of those leaders more than once as well.

But because Modi is Modi, he adds a little personal touch to all his gifts so they do not look like something some official at the MEA picked up at the Cottage Industries emporium on his way home from work. And we will surely soon be faced with the Gita-oneupmanship games.

Put simply, is my Gita better than yours?

A Gita in Japanese is very culturally sensitive but does it carry the same cachet as the “Gita by Gandhi” with a custom khadi cover? Foreign policy pundits will surely be examining with a fine tooth-comb the importance New Delhi accords to Washington versus Tokyo as they compare the Gitas in their gift-bags. This is a case where a book will indeed be judged by its cover.

Modi ordered a special edition of The Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi and “copies of it were specially done up with a certain get up as khadi on its cover” said MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.

What about a Gita plus a book on Vivekananda in Japan as compared to a Gita plus a handwoven khadi jacket? What does that say about how Modi views Shinzo Abe versus Xi Jinping?

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott must be feeling a little left-out of the spiritual upliftment programme as he leafs through Modi’s gift to him and discovers that he got not the Bhagavad Gita like everyone else but a book on yoga. Australia’s stereotype as a laidback country where people like their beaches and sports and physical activity seems to have determined that gift choice. On the plus side he will be ready for World Yoga Day.

Actually surprisingly for a man with a brahmachari reputation, Narendra Modi is quite the hands-on gift-giver. His gifts carry a personal touch rather than conveying the stiff unimaginative formality of the head of state.

As the Gita says “ A gift is pure when it is given from the heart to the right person at the right time and at the right place, and when we expect nothing in return.”

India surely does expect something in return from Washington DC but digging out the old recordings of Martin Luther King in India and putting them together along with a photograph of King at Rajghat as a gift for Barack Obama is actually quite a moving gesture on many levels. In a society where we often measure the worth of a gift by its price tag this could be a lesson to many of the prime minister’s compatriots – the best gifts are ones that are rare, that show caring and thought and an understanding of the recipient, rather than the size of the gift-giver’s bank account. While the 15 cases of sindhri and chausa mangos Nawaaz Sharif sent might be very tasty, a khadi-cover Gita is far more tasteful in its subtlety. However that sari for Modi’s mother was a nice touch, Mr. Sharif.

Of course Modi is not above making the ostentatious gesture either. 2500 kilos of precious sandalwood and 2400 kilos of ghee to Pasupatinath temple in Nepal for example. That adds up to a Rs 4 crore price tag. According to a senior government official described the gesture as India’s “bhaktibhaav se arpan (an offering to God with India’s devotion).”

Modi probably did not give the prime minister of Nepal a Gita as well because that would be a little gratuitous in what used to be the world’s only Hindu kingdom. There’s no word whether his Gita-giving spree also extended to our other neighbours.

Is Nawaaz Sharif, for example, pondering on the Gita’s warning that for the honourable, dishonour is worse than death? Will the king of Saudi Arabia get a Gita as well if Modi has the chance to meet him? The Gita politics can take interesting turns as we follow Modi to capitals around the world.

Meanwhile in an ironic twist, Modi has found himself with an extra Gita in his luggage. Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu to be elected to the US Congress gave Modi her personal copy of the Bhagavad Gita, the one on which she was sworn in as US congresswoman, the one she found solace in while serving in the Iraq war as a soldier. “Nothing could have been more special and valuable to me than this Gita , which I have had with me since a child" she says.

Gabbard might have just out-Gita-ed Narendra Modi himself when it comes to the Gita with the personal touch.

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Updated Date: Oct 01, 2014 09:26:26 IST

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