Updated: March 12, 2022 9:31:51 am
As a foreign diplomat working in the prime minister’s office in 1968, when Natwar Singh accompanied Indira Gandhi for a state visit to Belgrade in former Yugoslavia, he was happy to come across a road named after Jawaharlal Nehru there. Singh, now 92, recalls advising Gandhi that as a gesture of reciprocation, India must honour the then president of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, with a road named after him in New Delhi. “She immediately thought it to be a good idea since Tito was a very good friend of her father and of India,” said Singh, who later went on to become India’s External Affairs Minister.
Soon after their visit and on Gandhi’s suggestion, Josip Broz Tito Marg came up in South Delhi where it continues to exist till date, thereby commemorating a special friendship that India shared with Yugoslavia. Tito and Nehru, along with the president of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah, and Indonesian president Sukarno, were the founding fathers of the non-aligned movement that originated in the 1950s. The objective of non-aligned countries was to avoid joining either of the two great power blocs led by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and to uncompromisingly support principles of national independence and territorial integrity against domination by the great powers.
While it was Nehru who was the real driving force behind the non-aligned movement, it was only after his death and under the prime ministerial tenure of his daughter that several roads in Delhi came up in honour of leaders of countries who were part of the movement. Most of them stand forgotten in world history, but continue to be remembered in the broad boulevards of New Delhi.
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Gamal Abdel Nasser Marg, for instance, came up near Hauz Khas, while Kwame Nkrumah Marg exists in Chanakyapuri. “These roads in Delhi carrying foreign names were generally very close friends of India, who may have been forgotten by their own country, but are gratefully remembered in India,” said Mani Shankar Aiyar, former member of Parliament and politician in the Indian National Congress.
Yet another street carrying the name of a former non-aligned country is the Archbishop Makarios Marg near Lodhi Road, named after the first president of Cyprus and leader of the country’s freedom movement. Aiyar narrated the story of India’s friendship with Cyprus, which resulted in the street named after Makarios. “Makarios, in his attempt to ensure an independent Cyprus, had turned to India for support against both Turkey and Greece, which were attempting to take over all of Cyprus,” explained Aiyar. In consequence of that, he was willing to play a leading role in the movement for non-aligned countries. “While it was Nehru who initially befriended Makarios, it was really in Indira Gandhi’s period that the relationship between India and Cyprus grew extremely close,” he added.
It is also believed that the road named after Makarios was a reciprocal reaction to a street in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, being named after Indira Gandhi.
Also located in the vicinity of the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri is Panchsheel Marg, the name given after the five principles of peaceful coexistence that became the basis of the non-aligned movement in 1961. These five principles included ‘mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity’, ‘mutual non-aggression’, ‘mutual non-interference in each others’ internal affairs’, ‘equality and cooperation for mutual benefit’ and ‘peaceful coexistence’. Interestingly, these principles were first mentioned in the Sino-Indian agreement of 1954, which perhaps explains why Panchsheel Marg is the street where the Chinese Embassy is located.
Aiyar said the leaders of the non-aligned countries whose names are enshrined on the streets of Delhi were the heroes of his generation during their years of youth.
Speaking of the strength and growth of the non-aligned movement in the political corridors of India, Aiyar said, “We were the sole member of the non-aligned movement, right from my growing up days into middle age, when Indira Gandhi hosted the seventh non-aligned summit in Delhi (1983) and two-thirds of the international community attended it… The non-aligned movement had widespread support in India from all sections of the House. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee was deeply influenced by the movement and was a great advocate of non-alignment.”
History enthusiast and Delhi heritage expert Sohail Hashmi said that given how proud his generation was of the non-aligned philosophy, no one in Delhi objected to the streets being named after the leaders of these countries. “In most of the cases, the roads that were renamed to make way for the non-aligned leaders were innocuous ones. For instance, Makarios Marg was previously called Golf Links Road. There was no debate about renaming it,” said Hashmi. “Or in other cases these were streets that had no name previously since large parts of Delhi were being built and expanded during this period.”
Political commemoration aside, Hashmi said the signboards of the streets named after Nasser, Makarios and Tito offer some clue to the lack of adequate information about the stature of these names among the city authorities who put them up. “The name of Archbishop Makarios is spelt wrongly in Hindi and Urdu, so is the case with Nasser’s name. The name of Tito, similarly, is also spelt wrong in all languages.”
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