Life and times of Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro, a 'great friend of India', say diplomats

President of Cuba, Fidel Castro being received by Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi and President Zail Singh at Delhi Airport on March 06, 1983.

President of Cuba, Fidel Castro being received by Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi and President Zail Singh at Delhi Airport on March 06, 1983.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

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Though a non-English speaker, the Cuban leader’s communication with Indian leaders was smooth due to common view points on world affairs.

During the 1983 New Delhi NAM summit, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was offended on discovering that he was to speak after King Hussein of Jordan. Arafat and the Jordanian king were not on good terms at that point. Arafat decided to leave the summit. A clash among two Arab leaders would have created a new crisis especially since the Iran-Iraq war had vitiated the region already.

Seeing a crisis developing, Natwar Singh, the Secretary General of the summit, pleaded with Cuban president Fidel Castro to prevent Arafat from leaving. By then, Mr. Arafat had ordered his aircraft to be kept ready for departure. But despite Castro’s pleas, Arafat was unwilling to relent. Finally, the Cuban leader asked, “Are you a friend of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi or not?”

In response, Mr. Arafat said, “Friend? I consider Indira Gandhi my sister and I am her brother.” Sensing opportunity, Mr. Castro said, “In that case, you should behave like her brother and stay for the summit.” The NAM summit in New Delhi was thus saved from a major international embarrassment. Remembering Fidel Castro on Saturday, Mr. Singh said that he was a "great friend of India" who connected well with Indian leaders.

"He understood the Indian point of view in the Cold War and helped us deal with superpower pressure. He loved to recollect that Jawaharlal Nehru dropped in to see him in Harlem in 1960. He was just 34 years old and inexperienced but Nehru made it a point to meet him first after landing in New York for the UN General Assembly," said Mr Singh recounting that hotels in New York had denied accommodation to Mr. Castro and therefore he had to stay at the African-American dominated Harlem neighbourhood of the city.

Fidel Castro took over as Prime Minister of Cuba in 1959 after the first post-World War II communist revolution in the western hemisphere. He launched a radical social and economic programme which created one of the best human development indexes in the developing world. Former ambassador of India, Chinmaya Gharekhan who joined Indian Foreign Service a year before the revolution met Mr Castro on several occasions.

“Fidel found Indira Gandhi’s leftist political orientation helpful for bilateral cooperation. This was visible when Cuba was helping the popular MPLA (Popular Movement for Liberation of Angola) rebels during the Angolan civil war when the Non-aligned movement extended support to the cause of liberation,” Mr Gharekhan said recounting that Fidel Castro was a charismatic leader who was not just a revolutionary but also a pragmatic and realist.

Though a non-English speaker, the Cuban leader’s communication with Indian leaders was smooth due to common view points on world affairs. “He had an interpreter but understood English well, and loved to talk about the Spanish intellectual achievements,” said Mr Singh who had hosted him along with the Nobel laureate author Gabriel Garcia Marqez in 1983 NAM summit.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 8:26:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Fidel-Castro-a-great-friend-of-India-say-diplomats/article16706017.ece

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