Saturday, November 26, 2016

Obit Fidel Castro: Revolutionary icon who shaped healthy India-Cuba bond


In terms of assessing Fidel Castro’s role as a revolutionary figure, Fidel often insisted that "revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction".
He also gave famous quotes to cherish and perhaps also ponder and debate about: "Men do not shape destiny, destiny produces the man for the hour".

Castro was truly a man who shaped destiny, and someone who completely changed the way human beings look at the western world of capitalism.

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz --- known to millions of admirers as Comrade Castro or Commandante Castro - born on 13 August 1926 will be best remembered for bringing the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere and for surviving at least 10 American presidents. 

The revolutionary icon to millions of people and political class around the developing world in leading his fight against the Batista regime in 1959, Castro is actually credited for scripting a new anthem of defiance against the American hegemony. 
No doubt, in his memorable words Castro had defined revolution as a 'dictatorship' of the exploited against the exploiters.
Senior Indian Marxist leader Prakash Karat is right when he says Castro was not only a leader of Cuba, he was truly a world leader for the developing nations in 1970s and 1980s.

He was also one of the world’s best-known controversial leaders allegedly  survived countless US assassination attempts and - as they say - several premature obituary notes. 

In his death truly, the developing world has lost a soldier-politician and a champion of socialism and Non Aligned Movement (NAM) but was ironically also flayed by his detractors for brutally suppressing opposition and pursuing policies that crippled the Cuban economy. 

A trained lawyer, Fidel was born as ‘illegitimate son’ of a wealthy farmer, Angel María Bautista Castro Argiz, who had emigrated to Cuba from Spain. His mother, Lina Ruz González was a farm servant.
In the context of India-Cuban relations over the decades, Castro’s role was iconic. To the Indian government in 1970s and also to the foreign policy experts, Castro was “the star at the NAM summit” in 1983. Importantly, the famous 'Castro hug' of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and him has now almost become one of the most memorable photographs of the global polity of 1970s. 

The strong Cuba-India relations survived and actually thrived even after this period.

India was in fact among the first countries to recognize Cuba after the 1959 Revolution. Both the countries have maintained close contacts with each other in various international fora, such as the UN,   NAM, and WTO. While India has supported resolutions in the UN General Assembly calling for lifting of US sanctions against Cuba, for its part Cuba also backed India’s entry as a permanent member in the restructured UN Security Council. 
           Castro believed : Revolution is a 'dictatorship' of the exploited against the exploiters
India provided Cuba with 10,000 tonnes of wheat and 10,000 tonnes of rice in 1992 when Cuba was undergoing hardship. Fidel Castro termed the donation as the “Bread of India”, because it was sufficient for one loaf of bread for each one of the then Cuban population of eleven million people. In 2008 yet again, Government of India wrote off the principal and interest of US$62 million,   equivalent to Rs. 1.28 billion debt owed to India. The donation was a measure of   solidarity towards the friendly people of Cuba. 

Old timers in Kolkata would fondly recall that in September 1973 Jyoti Basu, not yet the Chief Minister of West Bengal, received 'revolutionary' President Fidel Castro in 'Calcutta'. Basu ironically had to wait for four more years to become the Chief Minister of the state that he ruled for next 23 years.
"The picture of that encounter has now become very famous and it was part of a very relevant photo exhibition, organised on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of Fidel’s visit to Calcutta, which highlighted the spontaneous outburst of sympathy towards the Cuban leader that flooded the Dum Dum airport," wrote Miguel Angel Ramfrez, Cuban Ambassador to India, in his tribute for Basu in Frontline, Feb. 2010.

He also thanked Basu with "great appreciation" for Jyoti Basu’s personal contribution to Cuba in Cuban years of hardships in the 1990s, when, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the socialist countries in Europe. 
Basu with the likes of Harkishan Singh] Surjeet embarked upon the task of helping Cuba and carried out a campaign in 1992 to send a ship to Cuba with rice and wheat. The Rao government in Delhi obliged and the offer was later described by none other than Fidel as the “bread from India”.

Cuba released an official postage stamp in 2010 with Fidel Castro and Nehru on it, to celebrate 50 years of friendship with India



As reported in The Hindustan Times: "One reason Castro would never have forgotten India was the rare gesture by first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In September 1960, Castro was a pariah for most when he went to attend the United Nations general assembly meeting in New York. But Nehru was one of the first visitors to the hotel where a 34-year-old Castro was put up."

Veterans also say some of the meetings between Castro and Indian prime ministers were as long as his speeches, very very long. Rajiv Gandhi had a six-hour meeting in Havana with president Castro in 1988.

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Castro being received at Kolkata in 1973 by Basu, Pramode Dasgupta and others

Tail piece:

In 1973 Castro was in Hanoi, Vietnam when he was informed that Chilean President Salvador Allende had been assassinated. Castro cut short his Vietnam visit and immediately rushed to Cuba. It was on the way to Cuba that he halted in Kolkata.

It was less than an hour he had been in the airport, but he was ready to chat with everyone. He posed for photographers, nibbled snacks in the VIP lounge of the airport and said bye to Kolkata with a revolutionary salute to the crowd. (Narad News)

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