Former Cuban President and legendary Leftist revolutionary Fidel Castro is no more. The 90-year-old lawyer-turned-revolutionary was an iconic figure of 20th century and his popularity wasn't limited by borders.
With Castro's demise, India's current Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "India mourns the loss of a great friend." He said that because there's a long history the Cuban legend shared with India.
The Bear Hug moment with Indira Gandhi
The Cuban leader who was the chairman of Non Aligned Movement - a third-front comprising of developing countries to stay neutral during the Cold War between United States and Soviet Union - had arrived in New Delhi for the NAM summit in 1983. As the NAM's norm is, the host country takes the chairmanship for next three years.
1983 :: Fidel Castro Hugs Indira Gandhi At The Moment of Handing Over of The Chairman's Gavel During NAM Summit pic.twitter.com/TDF9nXCPxp— indianhistorypics (@IndiaHistorypic) November 26, 2016
While handing then Indian PM Indira Gandhi the gavel, Castro "enveloped her in a huge bear hug: Ms Gandhi, never an emotionally demonstrative person, visibly recoiled from that hug, managing only a faintly polite smile in the interest of diplomatic niceties," author Pranay Gupte writes in Mother India: A Political Biography of Indira Gandhi.
While the moment signaled one of the many instances of India's close relationship with Cuba, Castro skipped Gandhi's funeral in 1984.
Jawaharlal Nehru's Hotel Visit
In New York for United Nations general assembly in September 1960, Castro, who had overthrown the Cuba's US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista a year ago, was greeted with hostility in the United States. In fact, initially no hotel in New York agreed to rent him a room.
But India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru dropped by Castro's hotel room soon after he managed to find one.
"...Castro moved into a hotel in Harlem in New York City. 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,'" K. Natwar Singh, former External Affairs Minister, wrote in Walking With Lions : Tales From A Diplomatic Past.
Before this, Nehru had hosted Castro's comrade and Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara in New Delhi in 1959. It was also the official acknowledgement - one of the very first - of Cuba as a socialist state under Castro.
"Bread of India"
"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.
Rajiv Gandhi with Fidel Castro pic.twitter.com/w1Hjyr49wD— Rajiv Ratna Gandhi (@Rajiv___Gandhi) November 26, 2016
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," former Cuban ambassador to India, Miguel Ángel Ramírez Ramos wrote on the 50 years of friendship between India and Cuba.
The many meetings with Indian leaders
Castro was one of the few world leaders to have seen India's rise from a decade-old independent country to the thriving economic hub in Asia. Castro, who visited India twice, hosted several Indian Prime Ministers and dignitaries apart from Nehru and Indira Gandhi during his lifetime.
Former PM Rajiv Gandhi visited Cuba in 1985. The next Indian PM's visit came in 2006 when ex-PM Dr Manmohan Singh landed in Cuba.
MEA releases photo of Indian V-P Hamid Ansari's meeting Fidel Castro in Cuba. 87-yr-old Castro looks rather fit. pic.twitter.com/eL9BvvgFbb— Devirupa Mitra (@DevirupaM) October 31, 2013
In 2013, Vice-President Hamid Ansari met an ailing Castro in Havana. He was granted a rare 65-minute audience with the popular leader who had receded from the limelight due to ill health.
It was veteran Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu who led the campaign for sending food stock to Cuba in 1992, during the famous 'Bread of India' episode.
Years after the fall of Soviet Union, Basu personally visited Havana in September 1993 to meet Castro where he had long conversations with him. The conversations resulted in a warm relationship that the iconic revolutionary leader unexpectedly dropped at the guest house where Basu was staying, to see him off.