End of an era: Cuban leader Fidel Castro will be fondly remembered in India

Harsh Kapoor @CatchNews | First published: 26 November 2016, 20:20 IST
Photo: AFP PHOTO / Antonio Levi

The bête noire of eleven American presidents - from Eisenhower to Obama - and the flag bearer of anti-imperialist struggles of the past century, Fidel Castro died on 25 November in Havana, after a prolonged illness. He will remain a symbol in countries in the global south, particularly in Latin America. The Cuban revolution brought to Left-wing politics the romance of the possibility of radical change, inspiring the sixties generation around the world.

As a tribute to his role in supporting national liberation struggles in many third world countries, he was elected to preside over the summit of the Non Aligned Movement of September 2006.

Castro's Indian connection

Before the Cuban revolution happened, there was the non-aligned movement was developing in the 1950s with Jawaharlal Nehru, Nasser and Suharto leading the movement which was very sympathetic to nationalists every where in the world. Fully aware of this, the Cubans had sent Che Guevara on a mission to India in late 1959.

Photo by: Kundan Lal of Photo Division, Government of India
PM Jawaharlal Nehru greets Che Guevara during Guevara's mission to India.

Che was received with much sympathy in India. Scarcely a year later, in 1960, India opened a diplomatic mission in Cuba.

The same year, Castro, the leader of the Cuban revolution, travelled to New York for the UN General Assembly. In New York, he was denied accommodation by many hotels and had to move to a small hotel. On hearing of this, Jawaharlal Nehru, India's then Prime Minister, drove to down to meet Castro. Castro fondly remembered this, saying he was the first leader from the third world to come and meet him and extend moral support.

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In 1973, Castro was on a trip to Vietnam and took a stopover in Delhi. He fondly remembered the warm reception by Indira Gandhi and her advisors; in fact, during the dinner news came of the military coup in Chile and the assassination of Salvadore Allende, a close ally of Cuba. The reaction of indignation expressed by Indira Gandhi and her officials endeared Nehru's daughter to Castro. Like Castro, Indira Gandhi also feared that the Americans may try to assassinate her due to her uncompromising stance on US interference in the third world.

Fidel Castro and Indira Gandhi during Castro's visit to India's capital.

Castro: the birth of a revolutionary

In the early 1950s, Fidel Castro, who started off as a lawyer, was passionately active in the Cuban Peoples Party (inspired by Jose Marti a socialist poet). He was a nationalist. In 1952, he stood for parliamentary election but the election was annulled after a coup d'etat by colonel Fulgencio Batista. The coup lead to violent repression and deportations. At that time the Cuban economy was controlled by American companies and North American banks and some 500,000 Cubans were unemployed.

"While living in exile in Mexico, Castro made the acquaintance of Argentine doctor Ernesto 'Che' Guevara."

Capitalising on the Batista government's unpopularity, Fidel Castro organised an insurgent movement and led in an attack on the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba on 26 July, 1953. The assault failed badly, dozens of the revolutionaries were killed and the survivors fled to the mountains of the Sierra Maestra, where they were tracked down and arrested. Fidel too was arrested and sentenced to a 15-year prison term.