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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 11

Tribute to Indira Gandhi

Saturday 1 March 2008, by Fidel Castro Ruz


[(On February 19, 2008, the hero of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruiz, announced his decision to retire from his official positions. In a statement published online by the Communist Party daily in Havana, Granma, the 81-year-old leader decleared: “I communicate to you that I will not aspire to or accept... the position of President of Council of State and Commander-in-Chief” of Cuba (at the country’s National Assembly meeting on February 24, 2008). Subsiquently the National Assembly elected his brother, Raul, as the Cuban President. On the occasion of Fidel’s retirement (he has said, however, that he would continue to “fight as a soldier of ideas” by writing columns in the Cuban media) we reproduce the following moving piece on Indira Gandhi he wrote 23 years ago—this is one of the best tributes to her memory from anyone after her death and it reflects his deep admiration and respect for her)]

On November 11, 1973, on our way to Vietnam—then involved in the people’s heroic war against the Americans and their Southern puppets, a war that was crowned with success later on—we made a technical stop-over in Delhi. It was forseen in the itinerary of that trip that we would make an official stop-over in India on our way back, fulfilling an invitation of its Government.

On that simple transit, we were received with fraternal warmth by Indira Gandhi, her Government and people. Despite pressures and responsibilities that overwhelmed her, Indira Gandhi was all the time with us. She took us to see some historical monuments in New Delhi and Old Delhi and displayed a charm that was proverbial in her and that was touched with her own naturalness which enabled the visitors not to feel disturbed by taking the time, undoubtedly necessary, she was devoting to them.

At night, Indira Gandhi wanted the Cuban delegation to enjoy—just on the eve of resuming its trip to Hanoi—a splendid banquet in which India’s courtesy and gastronomic knowledge were combined with a beautiful performance of traditional dances of a rich and multinational culture.

Our delight as spectators was interrupted, as if by a thunderbolt, when we were told that a few moments earlier, in faraway Chile, our beloved friend, a great leader of its people and of Latin America, Salvador Allende, had been assassinated in an ominous coup that brought Pinochet power in such an unpopular mandate.

We could barely finish in a proper manner, while we were being put in touch with Havana, the function that far from formal was deeply friendly.
The trip to Vietnam had to be cut short and the stay in India could not take place as a result of our necessary return to Havana. At that dramatic moment, Indira Gandhi, in a tone of familiarity and confidence, told me:
What they have done to Allende they also wish to do it to me. Here, there are people who, linked to the same external forces that acted in Chile, would like to eliminate me.

Eleven years later, amidst an important international socialist forum of which our country was the host—the 39th Session of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA)—the news that Indira Gandhi had died, assassinated came also to hurt our sensitivity and to precipitate the final moments of the conference. Her tragic premonition of that night was then confirmed, and it was possible to understand better the brave calmness of such a delicate woman who had to pursue all those years a complex policy, besieged by external enemies, pokers of embers of hate which inevitably endure in a multinational state, and a woman who was prevented—because of historical traditions and national customs—from organising the security for her own life in such a way that it would have made more difficult any attempt of her enemies.

Alongwith the sorrow of her absence, I will always have the sorrow that my complicated life allowed me only hasty encounters with such a sensitive and profound woman and not the quiet dialogue we had promised each other.

BUT the almost fleeting contact amidst international form where we were both besieged by irrevocable engagements and programmes—at the Delhi Conference, the funerals of Brezhnev and Andropov—made it possible, however, to establish among us a personal link in which mutual respect was accompanied by mutual affection. I was able to value all the energies embodied in such a small body. Her eyes revealed the inner tension which she lived in and that her almost majestic Hindu manners succeeded in concealing. I always looked at her not as an expression of abstract power.

Other international personalities of her same importance pass through life without noticing those small circumstances that take place around them.

We saw Indira Gandhi concerned with every little detail in the attention to her guests and while organising the functions to which her Government was devoted.

In New Delhi, for the success of the Nonaligned Conference, it was necessary for Indira Gandhi to display her subtle capacity of persuasion and her negotiating abilities that would enable her to retrace on time to achieve the necessary arrangements.

All this was accompanied by an energy without which it would not have been possible for her to lead during so many years a country of hundreds of thousands inhabitants, of caste, religious and national contradictions and to maintain at the same time an independent international position when some others did not renounce—as they have still not renounced—to convert India into an instrument for the great geopolitical aspiration in which they insist.

While paying homage to Indira Gandhi, we do it with the sentiment of one who refers to a lost friendship, with the sorrow that the obligations as a host that we had at the time of her death made impossible our personal presence in her dramatic funeral.

From far away we followed, with an oppressed heart, such an impressive spectacle. 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 insinuated that one day she also would with resignation give up her life in holocaust for the unity of her nation.

(Courtesy: Granma, October 4, 1985)

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