'Bridged gap between leaders and the led'

Says octogenarian writer Ashok Mitra, a big admirer of Castro and Cuba.

Updated - November 27, 2016 12:34 am IST

Published - November 27, 2016 12:09 am IST - Kolkata:

He has forgotten the name of the stadium shaped like “an open air amphitheatre” in Havana that he visited many moons back.

“It was May Day. I saw a girl running up and down the stadium’s steps. She was hardly 16 or 17 and not a Communist Party cadre. She was running up to talk to the people and coming down to have a word with the top leaders of the party, even cracking jokes with them,” Ashok Mitra, writer and former Finance Minister of West Bengal, said, adding that what he saw underscored one of Fidel Castro’s primary achievements.

Castro’s achievements

“In country after country, socialists pledged to reduce the gap between the leaders and the led. But Cuba achieved it under Fidel Castro,” said the octogenarian writer, a big admirer of Castro and Cuba.

However, Mr. Mitra never met Castro, not even when the Cuban leader visited Kolkata in 1973, and rather wrote an acerbic piece, A Revolutionary Handshake .

“Fifty years ago, what Washington dictated was mutely obeyed by pack of Latin American countries, mostly ruled by military generals. Fidel changed this scenario. He managed to instil a pride among the Latin American countries. The fact that the U.S. is getting edged out [today] in Latin America, failing to revive old capitalist order, is largely due to Castro,” he said.

There was a rigid Soviet line — “even among Indian Communists” — which was not impressed by Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong’s revolution. “Mao took a dig at Marx. Marx assumed revolution can only take place when a state reaches certain maturity,” Mr. Mitra said.

“But Mao demonstrated that those described as ‘a sack of potatoes’ — the peasantry — could be mobilised for social revolution and similar events unfolded in Cuba.” When Castro initiated his movement and moved to the mountains, he was severely criticized by the Cuban Communists for his “infantile venture”.

“But as Castro emerged successful, it was these leaders who surrendered [to Castro] and this is a huge achievement in 1950s Cuba,” said Mr. Mitra.

The other aspect is the influence of Castro on the social and cultural scene of South America and the world. “Even [late Colombian writer] Gabriel García Márquez publicly said his great inspiration was Castro. But, as Mao said, it takes a millennium to judge a phenomenon … it would take many years to understand and analyse Fidel Castro,” the veteran Marxist said.

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