February 05, 2023

TN: Rousing Reception to Aleida

AA Nainar

SOCIALIST Cuba, that tiny Caribbean Island in the coast of the Gulf of Mexico joining in the Pacific Ocean, right below the mighty American nation 18 miles farther from the mainland, has always been an ideological eyesore for the American capitalist class. But, Cuba has been the rallying point of the working class all over the world to express their anti-imperialist fervour. They stood solidly behind her to help valiantly fight the American onslaughts. Expression of ‘Solidarity with Cuba’ has been synonymous with ‘anti-imperialism’ for the workers of the world.

In India too people are often mobilised to express their internationalism in many ways. Besides reiteration of their inviolable right to freedom and independence of nations, they have been in the forefront of displaying their partisanship with global south. Anti-war and peace movements are also part of these mobilisations. Solidarity with Cuba assumes a special significance, which is in essence an anti-imperialist mass mobilisation; and that has been a recurrent theme in the scheme of things for such activities of democratic minded people of India.

Specifically Indian Left has been advancing such movements, during the past many decades and has conducted various Cuba Solidarity programmes. In the year 1998, when Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet was the secretary of the CPI (M) and when Cuba was encircled and subjugated to an inhuman economic blockade by America, - wheat, food articles, medicines, dress materials and other essential items were collected from the Indian people. A ship load of consignment offered though enthusiastic contributions were sent to Havana.  It is not the quantum of money it costed, but the emotional solidarity expressed by the Indian people, that is still remembered by all.

In the year 2006, India played host to the Third Asia Pacific Cuba Solidarity Conference (APCSC), which was held in Chennai. In that particular conference held on January 20-21, 2006, about 75 delegates from 15 countries and 150 delegates from all over India participated. The senior most leader of the DMK M Karunanidhi participated and read out a long poem written by him in support of Cuba. All democratic, secular political leaders, writers, artists and eminent personalities which included Kamal Hassan, participated in those events. The memory is still fresh for many and they recall that as they welcome Aleida and Estefania.

A grand welcome was organised on January 17, 2023 morning, at the Chennai Airport to receive Aleida Guevara, the daughter and Estefania Guevara the grand-daughter of the legendary, revolutionary Che Guevara. Red flags were all around. Senior leader of the CPI(M) TK Rangarajan, G Ramakrishnan, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, CPI(M)  state secretary K Balakrishnan were there to receive them. Children, youth, students, boys and girls all were wearing Che Guevara embossed t-shirts and welcomed the guests.

The first programme of the day started with their visit to CPI(M) headquarters, P Ramamurthy Ninaivagam. There was a wonderful interaction of the state leaders /leaders of various mass and class organisations, with both Aleida and Estefania. They answered various queries raised by those present in the meeting. In the evening, during dinner time there was a small interaction with the university faculty members and students, which also went well.

The day two visit was virtually very tough and demanding in terms of time and stamina. In the morning, Aleida gave a fifteen-minute interview to the popular TV Channel ‘Thanthi TV’, which is now available on the YouTube. The second programme of the day was at the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ). The chairman Shashi Kumar and an associate of the ACJ, N Ram (The Hindu) and other dignitaries participated in the interaction, which was attended by more than 250 students. Here, she did not give a lecture. She just asked the students to raise questions and answered them. For a question about how Che was being ‘icon’-ised and his pictures are being merchandised by the western corporate media, she soberly replied as follows: “My father was really a very handsome person and he looked always charming and cheerful. Definitely, he was an icon of revolution and social change; but capitalism, that may force one to sell even one’s own mother for profit, would do anything to destroy the contributions of Che. They try to merchandise his image and seek to destroy his ideology and values; he really endeavoured hard for bringing socialism everywhere. The capitalists’attempts are at best to be correctly understood and contemptuously disregarded; but what we really want is that his ideology should be fully understood and implemented; that should be the best tribute to him. Every minute and every second he used to think how to help the people; he starts early from home before children wake up; he returns late; but his love for us never had been small; he will very passionately touch our hairs and caress us. Last time I saw him was when I was four years old. I learnt about him, as you too did, but eventually I did from his close aides and comrades who worked with him all along.”

Then she went on to speak about Fidel Castro and Jose Marti and their contributions to the revolutionary movement; and how they had been contributing for the social transformation. Especially when she talked about Fidel Castro, she referred to him as her big father. She said, he had been very supportive to her after her father's death. But for Fidel’s help nothing would have happened at their family. Finally, very emotionally, in the meeting she came up with the ‘Song of two Roses’. Without any instrument to support for music, her vocal rendering was so attractive and the people were spellbound to listen to the song. Earlier in the programme, N Ram and Shashi Kumar addressed the gathering.

Before proceeding to the public reception at 3.30 pm, Aleida visited the CPI state headquarters ‘Balan Illam’. There, a grand reception was given to her attended by hundreds of people. Among others, veteran leader R Nallakannu and the state secretary R Mutharasan were there present to greet them. Ranjeet Kumar, from the Institute of Spanish Studies - India, came from Bangalore to Chennai specifically for the purpose of translating the speeches from Spanish to English.
Aleida Guevara and Estefania Guevara were accorded a grand public reception at the ‘Raja Annamalai Mandram’, the vintage Town Hall in Chennai Esplanade. The month of January is pleasant in Chennai and that too by the side of Bay of Bengal, located adjacent to the Madras High Court, the Mandram festoons were sizzling in sea breeze; and the whole area was simply well decorated to receive the guests. Cultural programmes were held outside the hall, on the road and in front of the auditorium, which included the ‘Papampatti Jama’band, and the ‘Chennai Parayattam, Mayilattam, Oyilattam’.
When the Guevaras arrived at the auditorium, thousands of people thronged the entrance to have a glimpse of them. Padma Vibushan Umayalpuram Sivaraman played a thani aavardhanam in mridhangam. The ‘Jama-Parai’ groups also performed on the dais. Comrade Talkies group had sung a few songs. The head of the National Committee for Solidarity with Cuba (NCSC) and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, MA Baby introduced the guests and paid rich tributes to the memory of Che Guevara. He explained the purpose of the visit and emphasised the need for enhancing the efforts of Cuba Solidarity movement in the current global political scenario.

Kanimozhi, MP, and deputy general secretary of the DMK; K Veeramani, leader of the DK; R Mutharasan, CPI; Thol. Thirumavalavan of VCK; A Gopanna of INC; Vandhiyadevan of MDMK; Hajakani of MNMK and other leaders of secular democratic parties addressed the meeting. Madurai MP Su.Venkatesan and U Vasuki Central Committee Member of the CPI (M) also spoke.

Addressing the meeting, Aleida acknowledged the love and affection of the Tamil people. She was very keenly listening to the speeches of DK, DMK, VCK, INC, MNMK and MDMK leaders, who invariably referred to the ongoing controversy raised by the BJP quarters, especially through the governor decrying the naming of the state as Tamilnadu. She understood the sensitivity of the Tamil people and their passion for their language and the love for their land (state). In the course of her address she asked the audience to tell the name of their state. People shouted “Tamilnadu”. When she wanted them to do it further loudly, they did so. When she wanted them do more boisterously, the whole hall was rented with ‘Tamilnadu – Tamilnadu’-- rapturously echoing all around for some time. Such was her emotional connect with the Tamil people that day, which found wide coverage in all the media the next day.

Her love for children was at display on the dais. Whenever a chid came to the dais to shake hands with her, she hugged and kissed them and posed for photograph. Her namesake one Aleida, Varshini Vanchinathan, Adhiyan Abimanyu, Venba Gavaskar and many such children came to the dais, to name a few. They may have very inspiring stories to narrate to their friends for a long time to come. Aleida ended her speech with another Spanish song “The silence of the Mountain”. Her whole address was punctuated with frequent applauses and shouts of joy.

K Balakrishnan, CPI(M)  state secretary concluded the meeting with his presidential address. A Arumuga Nainar, state convener of the NCSC, proposed the vote of thanks.