Nehru boosted my morale, confidence, will never forget gesture, Castro said: Natwar Singh

Fidel Castro had been Chairman of the 6th Summit in 1979 in Havana

Written by K Natwar Singh | Published:November 27, 2016 4:06 am
Natwar Singh with Fidel Castro and former PM Rajiv Gandhi. Natwar Singh with Fidel Castro and former PM Rajiv Gandhi.

Fidel Castro was Cuba. Cuba was Fidel Castro. His death is a world event. He was a world figure, known in all parts of the globe. Fidel Castro had been Chairman of the 6th Summit in 1979 in Havana. Indira Gandhi took over from the great Cuban leader in March 1983. I was Secretary General of the 7th Summit.

In late 1982, I travelled to Havana to get guidance from our Cuban friends on how to run a NAM Summit. I had not requested a meeting with President Castro — imagine when on the final day of my stay, a wholly unexpected summons came from the President’s office. Just four words, “Fidel will receive you”. I was at once apprehensive and elated. The uppermost thought in my mind was, “What do I say to him?” I need not have worried. He put me at ease right away by asking, “Who are the Gurkhas, and what were they doing in the Falkland Islands?” I gave the Cuban leader a thumbnail history of the Gurkhas — They were ferocious warriors. Their valour was legendry. Most came from Nepal. They had served in the British India army. Even today, there was a Gurkha regiment in the British Army. This outfit fought in the recently concluded Anglo-Argentine war.

I then asked, “Excellency, your query about the Gurkhas surprised me.” Mr Castro said he had come across them in Herzog’s book, Annapurna, which he had recently read. We then briefly touched on the forthcoming NAM Summit in New Delhi.

On two other occasions, I was given the opportunity to spend some time with the great man. At one of these meetings I asked him, “When did you first meet Jawaharlal Nehru?” What he said was fascinating and gripping. In September 1960, the United General Assembly observed the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of the organisation. Many world leaders came to New York. Among the more prominent were Jawaharlal Nehru, Nikita Khrushchew, Marshal Tito, Gamal Nasser, Ahmed Soekarno, Kwame Nkruma, Harold Macmillan, Dwight D Eishenhower and Fidel Castro.

On arrival in New York, Castro, to his dismay and disgust, found that no hotel would put him up. Temporarily, he moved into the tiny Cuban Mission to the UN. Next day, he called on the Secretary General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjold, to tell him that it was the Secretary General’s duty to find a place where the Cuban leader and his delegation could stay. Failing that, he would pitch a tent in the UN compound and move there. Even for so unflappable a character as Hammarskjold, this was an entirely novel approach by the leader of a member state.

Having shaken up the UN establishment, Castro moved into a hotel in Harlem. This was unprecedented. It made headlines. Castro said to me, “Do you know which leader was the first to come to meet me in Harlem? The great Jawaharlal Nehru. I was thirty-four years of age. I was inexperienced. I was tense. I had never been to any international conference; Nehru boosted my morale, enhanced my self-confidence. I will never forget Nehru’s magnanimous gesture.”

The last time I met him was in September 1988 in Havana along with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The meeting lasted six hours. Castro placed before us his Weltanschauung in soaring language and passion that made a lasting impression on Rajiv. It was a stunning tuition on the most intractable international issues. Granted it was a one-sided view, but Castro made a convincing case.

India will remember him with respect and affection.

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  1. C
    Chander Pal
    Nov 27, 2016 at 12:26 am
    Well he was able to be counted and kept U S at bay for 49 years. He was alligned but openly alligned. Nehru practiced that policy of non alignment which was neither here nor there, standing in the corner type international diplomacy. Where Cuba is known for its lowest cost public health system in the world, India allowed both private and government schools, colleges, hospitals and the lot. Idea was clear, government ones for us and private ones for them. Socialism for us, luxury for them
    1. P
      Prabhakaran Pappalil
      Nov 27, 2016 at 5:17 am
      Fidel Castro was a man of integrity, a respected communist and with the nation solidly behind him he could challenge the mightiest of the world powers until death. However, there was not much improvement in peoples sufferings and the country's development leaves much to be desired.
      1. P
        Prabhakaran Pappalil
        Nov 27, 2016 at 5:11 am
        Once dead, story writers are busy penning stories, truths and half truths and cent per cent lies, because there is no source for verification!
        1. V
          Nov 27, 2016 at 2:29 am
          Castro was joking :)
          1. V
            Vishnu Sharma
            Nov 27, 2016 at 2:10 am
            There are still a lot of ossified people in India who are stuck in the;br/gt;lt;br/gt;What they have to say today strikes a jarring note with the present generation who know that Marxism-Leninsm and the dictatorships which it spawned are;br/gt;lt;br/gt;They stifle the economic and the spiritual values of a nation and;br/gt;lt;br/gt;The present generation of Indians want nothing to do with the Marxists.
            1. K
              Nov 26, 2016 at 11:29 pm
              Did Castro supply some Cuban women to Nehru in return?
              1. P
                Nov 27, 2016 at 4:28 am
                A greatman he made Cuba a prosperous nation in health, education, sports, etc. A brave personas well. Nehru is not liked these days in India as much of our media is Jewsish infected. They (Jews) hate Nehru and Mrs. India hi as though they respected the Jews they never let them in into India. Nehru may have made mistakes but he industrialized India and Mrs. Indira hi by dismembered stan and and after blasting a nuclear weapon in 1974 made India a great power. Just the;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Congress has now gone corrupt and is only pushing one family on Indians this could lead to a disaster for the,. People like Antony could be good Indian leaders to lead;br/gt;lt;br/gt;BJP has mostly illiterate people. They have inherited a powerful military machine and it is hoped under the guidance of the smart Indian bureaucracy they will make India further more powerful and also take the spirit of Mahatma hi ahead.
                1. J
                  Nov 27, 2016 at 12:39 am
                  Those good days long gone with babri masjid lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Now the bank of England decide the currency of India again lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;The new rs 2000 bill have queen's picture on it
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