PM Modi’s condolence on demise of Fidel Castro is a bit awkward, and here is why

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Indian Interior Minister Zingh Zail and the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi welcome Cuban Head of State, Fidel Castro to the 7th Summit of Non-Aligned Countries in New Delhi. (Photo by Alain Nogues/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
Indian Interior Minister Zingh Zail Singh and the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi welcome Cuban Head of State, Fidel Castro to the 7th Summit of Non-Aligned Countries in New Delhi. (Photo by Alain Nogues/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — Extending his deepest condolences to the Government and people of Cuba on the demise of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said that India has lost a great friend.

“I extend my deepest condolences to the Government & people of Cuba on the sad demise of Fidel Castro. May his soul rest in peace. We stand in support with the Cuban Government and people in this tragic hour,” the Prime Minister said in a series of tweets.

Prime Minister further said that Castro was one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century.

President Pranab Mukerjee also covered his heartfelt condolences on demise of Castro and said he was a dear friend to India.

The revolutionary icon, one of the world’s best-known and most controversial leaders, who survived countless US assassination attempts and premature obituaries, died late on Friday night after suffering a long battle with illness.

All the world leaders and famous dignitaries expressed their condolences on his demise.

Why it’s awkward for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s expression deep sorrow? 

Narendra Modi is a big critique of communists, liberals, Congress and specially Ex Congress Prime Ministers like Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

But Fidel Castro had deep friendships with all the former Prime Ministers from Nehru to Rajiv Gandhi. Fidel Castro was a controversial leader for his strong rebellious mature against US administration. He was hailed as moaist.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visiting Fidel Castro at Theresa Hotel in New York in September 1960 when both the leaders were in the United States to attend the U.N. General Assembly.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visiting Fidel Castro at Theresa Hotel in New York in September 1960 when both the leaders were in the United States to attend the U.N. General Assembly. (Google Image)

Fidel Castro once revealed to former Minister of External Affairs K. Natwar Singh: “The first person who came to see me was Prime Minister Nehru. I can never forget his magnificent gesture. I was 34 years of age, not widely known. I was tense. Nehru boosted my morale. My tension disappeared.”

The friendship that was first established with Nehru was later on developed with his daughter, Indira Gandhi, for whom the Cubans, particularly Fidel, had great affection. Whenever this bond of friendship is highlighted, the unforgettable image that comes to everybody’s mind is that of Fidel embracing Indira Gandhi while handing over the NAM chairmanship to her in 1983.

He clearly indicated his affection when he said: “Today, while handing over, after more than three years, the chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement to our admired Indira Gandhi and to India, that she in her historic right represents, we can affirm that we have a movement whose unity was not weakened, whose vigour has grown, whose independence has been withheld despite all the challenges it faced.…”

He then concluded: “The maturity of India…, its unconditional adherence to the principles which lay at the foundation of the Non-Aligned Movement give us the assurances that under the wise leadership of Indira Gandhi, the non-aligned countries will continue advancing in their inalienable role as a bastion for peace, national independence and development…”

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NEW DELHI: Fidel Castro is met by Indira Gandhi on his arrival at airport. (Google Image)
NEW DELHI: Fidel Castro is met by Indira Gandhi on his arrival at airport. (Google Image)

Fidel and Indira Gandhi had met on several occasions in the past. In September 1973, she hosted a dinner for Fidel in Delhi when he was on his way to Vietnam. She spoke on that occasion of the heroic leadership of the Cuban revolution by him and said “his interest in the cause of coloured people all over the world had made the Cuban Premier a legend and captured the imagination of idealistic people, both young and old, all over the world”.

Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro, right, and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi appear together after Castro arrived to attend the opening session of the 7th Non-Aligned Summit in New Delhi, March 7, 1983. Castro passes his gavel to Mrs. Gandhi as she takes over the chairmanship of the non-aligned. (AP Photo)
Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro, right, and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi appear together after Castro arrived to attend the opening session of the 7th Non-Aligned Summit in New Delhi, March 7, 1983. Castro passes his gavel to Mrs. Gandhi as she takes over the chairmanship of the non-aligned. (AP Photo)

Fidel expressed this mutual affection and admiration after the tragic death of Indira Gandhi when he said: “We saw her disappear amidst flames, while her people, her descendants, and statesmen from all over the world surrounded the funeral pyre in respectful silence. And we recalled the august calmness with which, years earlier, she had indicated that one day she also would, with resignation, give up her life in a holocaust for the unity of her nation.” Those unforgettable words are inscribed as the last homage to Indira Gandhi in her Museum.

A IANS report recounts, how, during his visit Castro surprised Gandhi with a bear hug. “As both came to face each other, Gandhi expectantly extended her arm to receive the big wooden gavel. But Castro did not reciprocate. Gandhi, a trifle taken aback, extended her arm a second time, but Castro again failed to respond but kept smiling mysteriously.

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“As a slightly embarrassed Gandhi proffered her hand a trifle hesitatingly a third time, the giant Castro pulled a surprised Gandhi to him and gave her a giant bear hug in full view of the hall, before parting with the gavel,” reports IANS.

Iconic picture when Fidel Castro bear hugged Indira Gandhi (Google Image)
Iconic picture when Fidel Castro bear hugged Indira Gandhi (Google Image)

The whole hall broke into huge applause according to the report.

Bread of India

A few words should be said on the expressions of solidarity. In December 1992, while Cuba was passing through severe economic difficulties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and other friendly forces, including the Congress party, mobilised the nation and the common people to donate 10,000 tonnes of wheat and 10,000 tonnes of rice, which was highly appreciated by Cuba.

Fidel Castro personally welcomed the vessel that brought the grain and, making some of his characteristic calculations, immediately labelled it the “Bread of India” because it was sufficient for one loaf of bread for each one of Cuba’s 11 million people.

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Likewise, India granted $2 million in cash as disaster relief assistance to Cuba in the wake of the massive devastation caused by hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma in August and September 2008. The donation further strengthened the existing warm and friendly bilateral ties. Also, at the political level lots of committed action has been carried out on Indian soil in solidarity with the Cuban Five Heroes unjustly imprisoned in the U.S.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with Fidel Castro while on a visit to Havana in August 1985. The Order of Jose Marti was posthumously awarded to Indira Gandhi during this visit. (Google Image)
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with Fidel Castro while on a visit to Havana in August 1985. The Order of Jose Marti was posthumously awarded to Indira Gandhi during this visit. (Google Image)

It would be proper to conclude these humble words with the final statement of the report prepared by Che Guevara on his return to Cuba from his visit to India:

“Undoubtedly, Cuba and India are brothers, as all the people of the world should be in these times of nuclear disintegration and interplanetary missiles”.

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