New Delhi, Nov 26 (IANS) Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who died on Friday, was the most important leader at the 7th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) held here in March 1983 apart from then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, former Union Minister and career diplomat Natwar Singh said on Saturday.
“Apart from Indira Gandhi, he was the most important figure. The session lasted five days and he was the most important figure after Mrs Gandhi,” Natwar Singh, 85, told IANS at his Jor Bagh residence.
Recalling Castro’s role at the summit, especially in solving problems that could have derailed it, Singh, who was in charge of the event as Secretary General, said: “What happened on the very first day was that S.K. Lambah, who was my deputy, came running to me saying ‘Sir, we have a big problem. Yasser Arafat is very upset and he thinks he was insulted in the morning session by being asked to speak after the King of Jordan. He has ordered his plane and he is leaving’.
“I rang up Mrs Gandhi and said ‘Madam, please come and bring Mr. Castro with you’. So, they arrived and Castro telephoned Arafat and called him to the Vigyan Bhawan. And then he said: ‘Yasser, Indira Gandhi your friend?’ He said: ‘Friend, she is my elder sister’. So, Castro said: ‘Behave like a younger brother and come for the meeting in the afternoon and cancel your plane’.”
The sixth NAM Summit had taken place in Havana in 1979 under the chairmanship of Castro and Indira Gandhi was to take over the chairmanship from Castro in the Summit at Delhi, he recalled.
Speaking on Castro’s relationship with the three generations of Nehru-Gandhi family, Natwar Singh said: “He was a great admirer of Jawaharlal Nehru. They met in New York in 1960. He knew Indira Gandhi very well and he also had a great affection for Rajiv Gandhi.”
“I went with Rajiv to Havana in 1987, they had a very long discussion and one session lasting six hours.”
Castro, a man who survived many attempts on his life, was, while in Delhi in 1983, surprised by the non-existent security of the Indian Prime Minister.
“He told Indira Gandhi that ‘What is this? You are going out in a little car’. In those days she would go in a little Morris Minor with little police chap on motor bike. I said: ‘We have no problem here.’ In 18 months, she was assassinated,” he said.
Talking about the security arrangements for the Cuban President, he said: “Each night he slept in a separate place. We didn’t know. He was very clear that Americans are after him. He brought his own team.. we allowed him.”
Calling Castro a very gutsy and tough man who fought in the jungles against the Battista regime and who was on the hit list of Americans but who had complete trust in the people of Cuba whom he led, Singh said: “His security was very good. But he felt so confident in Havana that no one will touch him. The attempts were made when he was travelling abroad.”
Natwar Singh also recalls he was a great reader of books and once questioned him extensively on the Gurkhas after coming across them in a book on mountain-climbing in the Himalayas.
About his last meeting with Castro, he said: “I last met him more than 20 years ago. I was in Havana. He was a friend of mine, a world’s statesman and I was a foreign service officer. But his death is an end of an era. Although he came from a small island but his impact was world wide.
“He led NAM. He was the most important figure in South America and Central America. He took on the US and dealt with 11 presidents. The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) tried to assassinate him but didn’t succeed. He was an extraordinary man and he had very warm feelings for India.”
(Rohit Srivastava can be contacted at [email protected])