India: Marxist leader still smitten by a handshake with Fidel

Shyamal Chakraborty cherishes meeting the Cuban revolutionary leader in 1978

Gulf News

Kolkata: Almost four decades back a young Marxist from Bengal had the moment of his life. After running through slushy fields, and eluding big, burly bodyguards, it was a brief handshake with Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro that now veteran CPM (Communist Party of India-Marxist) leader Shyamal Chakraborty cherishes even today.

The year was 1978; the occasion — World Youth Festival at the Cuban capital Havana. Chakraborty was part of a group of young leaders from India who attended the event as delegates.

“It was the last day of the festival. I remember a camp fire had been organised for the delegates at the venue Lenin Park. I and some other delegates were walking when suddenly we heard a commotion behind. Some people were shouting ‘Fidel, Fidel’.

“We turned around. A jeep passed us and halted at a distance. We could see the hazy visage of Castro. Immediately, we started running. I remember it had rained that day. But we were desperate to get close to the revolutionary leader. We crossed the slushy fields on to the road.

“Two-three of us managed to go near him and shook hands with him. Somen Mitra [now a veteran leader of the Congress] was also among the lucky ones. But soon, Castro’s bodyguards rushed in and removed us from the spot.

“I still recall neither of us washed our right hand or used it to eat dinner that night. it was an unbelievable feeling,” Chakraborty, now a senior trade union leader, said.

The fleeting moments helped to erase the disappointment of not getting to see Castro in person some years back in Kolkata.

“He had made a brief stopover at Dum Dum Airport in 1973. The police did not allow me to enter the airport. Only our top leaders like Jyoti Basu and Promod Dasgupta went inside and spent some time with him,” said Chakraborty, a former state minister and Rajya Sabha member.

Asked to spell out his emotions at Castro’s death, Chakraborty said: “He was a true revolutionary leader. He was the inspiration and guardian of later day Left regimes in the American continent. From the Sandinistas of Nicaragua to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, all looked up to him for guidancea.

“He stood as a wall against capitalism. He worked tirelessly to consolidate alternative trade between Latin American nations,” he said.

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