Friday, May 25, 2018

Om Thanvi: The roving revolutionary -. Che Guevara in India

Che Guevara visited India at the end of June 1959 and stayed for two weeks. In the course of that official visit, he met Nehru, traveled around India, and was interviewed on All India Radio by K.P. Bhanumathy. When she prodded him, saying, “You are said to be a communist but communist dogmas won’t be accepted by a multi-religious society” , Che apparently replied, “I would not call myself a communist. I was born as a Catholic. I am a socialist who believes in equality and freedom from the exploiting countries. I have seen hunger, so much suffering, stark poverty, sickness and unemploy-ment right from my very young days in [Latin] America. It is happening in Cuba, Vietnam and Africa – the struggle for freedom starts from the hunger of the people. There are useful lessons in the Marxist-Leninist theory. The practical revolutionary initiates his own struggle simply fulfilling laws foreseen by Marx. In India, Gandhiji’s teachings had its own merit which finally brought freedom”. 

In other words, Che seemed to be saying that Marxism didn’t prescribe any specific trajectory of revolutionary emancipation whether from capitalism or from imperialist or colonial domination.

The ‘mysterious Krishna’ whom Che met (see link below) and was so impressed by was clearly V. Krishna Menon who was a passionate opponent of nuclear weapons and had liaised with Bertrand Russell throughout the fifties. We have at least one photo of Che conversing with Krishna Menon. They met on 3 July. About that conversation Che said, “While talking with Krishna, the learned Indian, we became aware of the evils of the means of mass destruction”. Strangely, when Che visited Calcutta, none of the leaders of the then undivided Communist Party of India went out of their way to meet him...

Che left Havana on 12 June 1959. He celebrated his 31st birthday in Madrid, and flew to Delhi via Cairo. His plane reached Palam on the night of 30 June. Since Che had no official position in the Cuban government, this “national leader of Cuba”, as he was described in official communications, was received at the airport by a welcoming committee of one, Deputy Chief Protocol Officer D S Khosla, who later accompanied him to the newly built Hotel Ashok in Chanakyapuri.

The Cuban delegation accompanying Che was likewise small: a mathematician, an economist, a party worker, a captain of the rebel army, and a single bodyguard. Pardo Llada, a rightwing broadcaster, also joined the delegation in Delhi. Though Llada was ostensibly sent to assist Che, it is rumoured that Castro wanted some respite from his popular daily radio programme in Havana. In any case, Che was not happy to have him, and Llada ended up returning home midway through the trip.

On his first morning in Delhi, Che met Nehru in Teen Murti Bhawan, the prime minister’s residence. Nehru had a soft spot for socialist countries, and Che clearly admired the Indian leader. “Nehru received us with an amiable familiarity of a patriarchal grandfather,” Che wrote in his report, “but with noble interest in the dedication and struggles of the Cuban people, commending our extraordinary valiance and showing unconditional sympathy towards our cause.”   

Formal talks took place before lunch, and Che explained that Cuba wanted to establish diplomatic and trade relations with India. Though Cuba did have a consulate in Calcutta, India had no diplomatic set-up in Cuba, with the Indian ambassador in Washington instead attending to Indian affairs in Cuba. The two delegations agreed to establish diplomatic missions as soon as possible, and post-lunch plans were made for the Cuban delegation to meet with Indian trade officials… read more: