As tributes poured in for Fidel Castro, CPI (M)'s MA Baby reminisced on Facebook about the aid effort and his meeting with the Cuban leader.

When Keralas communists raised tonnes of food to aid a struggling CubaFacebook/MA Baby
news History Sunday, November 27, 2016 - 15:29

Fidel Castro’s Cuba has a special reason for fondness towards Kerala. After all, back in 1992, when the Socialist nation was struggling after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was people of the state and other parts of India that provided food aid in the form of tonnes of wheat and rice.

As the tributes poured in for Fidel Castro, Kerala CPI (M) leader MA Baby reminisced about this incident in a Facebook post about the former Cuban President. The post was a reproduction of an earlier article published in Malayalam daily Deshabhimani, on the occassion of Castro's 90th birthday. 

The 1992 CPI(M) initiative, similar to other initiatives by communist parties around the world, yielded 10,000 tonnes each of wheat and rice carried on a ship called the Caribbean Princess from Haldia in Kolkata to Havana. Baby and veteran leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet also flew to Havana to personally hand over the aid to Castro.

At the first reception conducted in Havana port, Surjeet and Baby had another surprise for Castro, a portrait of him drawn by MF Hussain's son Shamsad Hussain. “We could see a child's innocence on Fidel's face, as he curiously glanced at the portrait,” reminisces Baby.

He also wrote about a dinner at the Indian Embassy the following day, where Castro made a “shocking” announcement about wanting to retire, much to the dismay of his supporters. “But in his defense, 66-year-old Fidel pointed out that his political strikes began when he was 20, and the 40 long years he had held responsibility for the country,” writes Baby, who first met Castro at a global students’ meet in Havana in 1978.

What finally convinced Castro to stay on in leadership, explains Baby, was the indefatigable energy of Surjeet, many years Castro’s senior. “I believe that meeting is what gave Fidel the strength to continue ruling the country till 2008, and actively being involved in party activities till 2011. This is something that makes the Communist Party in India proud.” 

When Castro asked how India’s kindness could be repaid, Surjeet responded that it was their duty as communists to extend aid to Cuba, and that Indians looked up to the country for its bold restraint. He added that even non-communists had contributed to the effort which was why Congress leader KN Singh was with the aid delegation.

“Close on the heels of Surjeet's words that we did not help Cuba expecting returns, I told Castro that we expect Cuba's cooperation in Sports and cultural activities,” adds Baby.

Castro reportedly responded with characteristic wit, saying, “In sports, Cuba is known for excellence in boxing. It is tricky to conduct Cuba-India matches. Will Indians feel bad if our sportsmen defeat them during the match?"

He also quipped that the Cuban football team was weaker, and so he would send them to India so that the Indian team could win.

Before the event at the Embassy, writes Baby, he and Surjeet also had a nearly three-hour long meeting with the Cuban leader, though he did not detail what they discussed there. 

(Courtesy for all images: Facebook/MA Baby)

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