NEW DELHI -- Even as the Narendra Modi government refused to acknowledge India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's historic contribution to building ties with Africa, the leaders of the nation on the other side of the Indian Ocean proved that they were not so quick to forget.
On Wednesday, the final day for the India-Africa Forum Summit, leader after leader from Africa heaped praise on Nehru, acknowledging him to be the architect of the India-Africa partnership, even as Modi silently looked on.
"Jawaharlal Nehru was an early inspirational figure not just in India but also for Africa," Zimbabwe's 91-year-old President Robert Mugabe said, praising the Indian National Congress (and the present Bharatiya Janata's Party's arch nemesis) "for showing the route of passive resistance". Mugabe is also the 1989 recipient of the international award named after Nehru, conferred by the Indian government to those who promote international cooperation.
"But leader after leader from Africa today heaped praise on Nehru just after Modi had spoken. The Prime Minister listened, then swivelled back and forth on his chair and finally left for bilateral meetings planned along the margins of the Africa summit."
Interestingly, this played out even as Congress boycotted the event, protesting against the Modi government's alleged exclusion of Nehru or the Congress party's contribution to India-Africa ties. According to reports, aside from photographs of Nehru displayed in the plenary hall, the organisers made no mention of the leader, with both Modi and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj giving him a miss in their speeches.
But leaders of the African countries remembered.
"We would like to recall the historical ties that bind us over the last century, emphasising particularly the role of two of your visionary prime ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi," said South African President Jacob Zuma, acknowledging the former PM's role in the 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia on Afro-Asian unity as well as a founding member of the 1961 Non-Aligned Movement.
Zuma also praised Nehru's daughter, and India's fourth PM: “Indira Gandhi, in her first 11 years in office from 1966 to 1977, changed India’s Africa policy through the introduction of the Africa-India Development Cooperation and India’s support for liberation struggles in Africa, including South Africa.”
“The actions of these two Indian visionaries have created the base of strong solidarity between African member states and India,” he added.
Narendra Modi laughs as he stands next to the President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe (bottom L), African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (bottom R) and other African heads of State during the India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi on October 29, 2015.
Moroccan King Mohamed VI noted that his grandfather and "great" Nehru worked together in anti-colonial struggle in Africa.
Others who referred to Nehru in their speeches included Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as Ghana President John Dramani Mahama, Mauritius Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth, and leaders from Mali, Sao Tome and Principe.
This is not the first time BJP has allegedly tried to "erase" or dilute Nehru's name from the country's history. The BJP government has announced it's decision to modernise the Nehru museum by adding other historical names that will be showcased in the building, in addition to the first PM's, a move that Congress has termed "diabolical".
It emerged last week that India has quietly got rid of Nehru's name from new initiatives under the Fulbright scholarship.
(with PTI inputs)
An earlier version of the report erroneously stated Indira Gandhi was the second Prime Minister of the country. The error is regretted.
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