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Remembering Indira Gandhi
One of the most remarkable contributions of the Asia’s iron lady, Indira Gandhi, during her lifetime was the global frame and relevance she helped the non-aligned movement acquire in close association with Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda.
THE LATE INDIAN Prime Minister Indira Gandhi led the Indian delegation to the third Non-aligned Aligned Meet (NAM) held in Lusaka, Zambia, in 1970. It was her first non-aligned summit meeting. More than 50 heads of state, including two surviving founding-members President Tito of Yugoslavia and President Fidel Castro of Cuba, participated in it.
 
Mrs Gandhi held an edge at the conference. She had established a first-name relationship with Kenneth Kaunda, President of Zambia — the NAM host. She also personally knew the leaders of other newly-independent African states. Many of them had visited India as invitee freedom-fighters.
 
The national and international eminence that Mrs Gandhi wrested later was still in the future. The markings were clearly visible in Lusaka though. As the Air India plane bearing her landed at Lusaka airport, an unprecedented sea of humanity converged on the tarmac in a festive mode. Protocol gave way to popular fervour. Attired in their tribal best, singers and dancers dominated the scene.
 
Zambia constructed a brand new conference complex called Malungushi Village. Mrs Gandhi was accommodated in a villa bearing the name Uhuru. The literal meaning of the word, Uhuru, is freedom.  Freedom-moments adopted it as a call to oust colonialism from Southern Africa. The Indian entourage was housed in a string of bungalows skirting the villa.
           
Plenary formalities took care of the first day. Sightseeing visits for government and state heads filled the schedule on the second day. Some were flown to Livingstone to see the Victoria Falls — one of the wonders of the world. Some others went to game parks to watch wildlife in its natural habitat. Mrs Indira Gandhi stayed back. An upset President Kaunda had called on her earlier. “Is something the matter, Kenneth?” she enquired.
 
The first-name relationship between the two had started as far back as 1958. Kenneth Kaunda was invited by the Indian Council of World Affairs to visit India that year. A freedom-fighter, he had stayed in New Delhi as an in-house guest at the Teen-Murthi residence of Prime Minister Nehru. Ever since he and Indira Gandhi corresponded with each other. She called him by his first name and he addressed her as “Sister Indira”.
 
President Kaunda apprised her of dissension among African leaders. Fuelled by regional jealousy as well as prompted by colonial and racist machinations, some members were out to slight him. As unanimity has been the hallmark of NAM decisions, Kaunda was worried on that count. The characteristic grin was missing.
 
“Sister Indira” did not fail the confidence reposed in her. She hosted an informal get-together for the African leaders that evening. The dissent melted away. The drafting committee of Foreign Ministers worked overtime and brought out a unanimous draft declaration.
 
The Heads of states and governments approved the declaration at the concluding session. As the new Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, a beaming President Kaunda assured the distinguished gathering to work for the “unfinished revolution” with added vigour and determination.
 
What a triumph! “Sister Indira” left a grateful nation and its President full of praise for her and India.


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