As it turns out, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has some tough choices to make. Does he want a jewellery box? What about “metallic bowl shaped items”? Or how about a good old wooden chest? Before he steps down later this month, Singh needs to take a call on whether he wants to claim for himself a variety of presents given to him by foreign dignitaries during his tenure. He also needs to collect, among other things, a “small silver egg” from the toshakhana, housed at the ministry of external affairs. According to the ministry, gifts valued at below R5,000 can be kept by recipients if they wish. Above that amount, however, they would have to pay the government the difference. Being allowed to keep certain gifts is just one of the perks of a government job. But if official appraisers are to be believed, Indian leaders have got the short end of the stick.
Barring 12, the rest of the 145 gifts received by various officials listed on the MEA website were valued at below R5,000. Compare this to the diamond and ruby suite of jewellery worth half a million dollars that Hillary Clinton got from the king of Saudi Arabia in 2012. But to be fair, the Americans have received their fair share of unfortunate gifts. In 2011, Nicolas Sarkozy gave US President Barack Obama a Louis Vuitton bag embossed with the initials B.O. But the French got their just desserts when French President Francois Hollande’s camel, a present from Malian leaders, which was left in Timbuktu due to its relentless howling, was eaten by the locals.
But the incoming government should seriously think of spreading the joy and good luck by opening a toshakhana boutique. One can be sure to get a good-deal there. Vice-President Hamid Ansari kept a pair of Cartier cufflinks valued at a princely R1,000. And foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, a handmade pashmina shawl thought to be worth R2,500. It’s time the rest of us got in on the right to a bargain.