Free Press Journal

Political Throwback! When Pandit Nehru gifted ‘Indira’ to Japan

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In 1949, Japan was facing difficult times because of World War II and over 67 of its cities were hit by the United States’ aerial bomb raids. Besides Hiroshima and Nagasaki, others like Toyama and Hitachi were also almost completely destroyed. The effect brought poverty and inflation in the country. But our first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru has small, (or should we say giant) beautiful contribution towards Japan. We all know that Pandit Nehru used to get tons of letters and he used to read them all. It was October 2, 1949 and an ordinary day. Pandit Nehru was opening his letter and he was surprised to see letters from Japan.

These letters were from school children, he was amused and smiling as he was reading the letter. But, what amused him thoroughly was the strange request the letters carried. The Japanese school children asked him for elephant as a gift! He replied to the children stating he would try his best to get them an elephant. The reason why the Japanese children wanted an elephant was because, during the war they had lost two elephants in the zoo, and now they had no elephants, which saddened them a great deal. He immediately started finding an elephant, and he came across a 15-year-old elephant. The elephant was named after his daughter.

When he sent Indira to Japan, he wrote to the children telling them that they should, “treat Indira as a gift not from me, but from the children of India to the children of Japan. The elephant is a noble animal, much loved in India and typical of India. It is wise, patient, strong and gentle. I hope all of us will develop these qualities.” So, Indira was sent to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo. Indira was to be an emissary of peace and a symbol of friendship between Japan and India.


After delivering the gift to children of Japan, Nehru wrote a letter to children in India “Grown-ups have a strange way of putting themselves in compartments and groups. They build barriers… of religion, caste, colour, party, nation, province, language, customs and of rich and poor. Fortunately, children do not know much about these barriers, which separate. They play and work with each other and it is only when they grow up that they begin to learn about these barriers from their elders. I hope you will take a long time in growing up…

Some months ago, the children of Japan wrote to me and asked me to send them an elephant. I sent them a beautiful elephant on behalf of the children of India… This noble animal became a symbol of India to them and a link between them and the children of India.

I was very happy that this gift of ours gave so much joy to so many children of Japan, and made them think of our country… remember that everywhere there are children like you going to school and work and play, and sometimes quarrelling but always making friends again. You can read about these countries in your books, and when you grow up many of you will visit them. Go there as friends and you will find friends to greet you.”

Indira died on August 11, 1983. Tokyo Governor Shunichi Suzuki mourned Indira’s death and paid tribute to the animal, saying, “She gave a big dream to Japanese children and played a good role in Japan-India friendship for more than 30 years.”

Tadamichi Koga, former head of the zoo, said Indira the elephant was “one of my happiest memories. I still remember that I was deeply moved when I saw a letter from Premier Nehru on his decision to present her as a gift to Japanese children.”- Inputs from The Hindu