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Why should one doubt 'popular' Soviet support to Nehru was spontaneous in 1955

By Rajiv Shah
A lot is being written on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Howdy event in Houston. Indeed, none can can deny it was a grand success, so much so that even Opposition Congress leaders have begun praising it. One of the most commented, adversely of course, is President Donald Trump calling Modi "father of India".
With this comment, it seems, Trump seemed to be making desperate attempt to gather popular support among Indian immigrants when his popularity is sharply falling, if a recent Fox New survey is to be believed. However, what has puzzled many, especially diehard opponents, is, how could Modi gather so much of support -- 50,000 people in a jam packed hall. It was a PR success by Modi lobbyists, helped by Trump's.
One of the more famous comments was triggered by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who erroneously tweeted that Jawaharlal Nehru collected spontaneous crowd in USA in 1954. Others said the year was 1956. Pratik Sinha, in an article in his fact-check site, altnews.in corrected all, stating, it wasn't USA but USSR, and the year was 1955.
What was intrigued me was, whether the Soviet crowd which came to Nehru was spontaneous. I don't deny Nehru's standing as one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century. He was one of the founders of the non-aligned movement (NAM), along with NKrumah of Ghana and Sukarno of Indonesia. A great democrat, Nehru helped democracy take roots in India. The Congress under him had people from heterogeneous ideologies -- left, right and centre -- and all worked together.
No doubt, there were remarkable aberrations such as President's imposed on the Communist government of EMS Namboodiripad in Kerala in 1959. My friend Urvish Kothari has dug out how Nehru banned "Nine Hours to Rama", a fictional account on Mahatma Gandhi's murder by Stonley Wolpert at the hands of India's first terrorist, Nathuram Godse, as also a film based it, in 1962. The story indicated the then government neglect to protect the Mahatma.
Be that as it may, that Nehru was very popular, even after the 1962 India-China war debacle, is without any doubt. I remember my maternal uncle, Lalitmohan Jamnadas, who owned Cosmos, a tubes and tyres factory in Chembur, Bombay, had come to Delhi, where we lived. On May 27, 1964, we had planned to accompany him to a hill station, probably Shimla, in his Fiat car.
Mota Mama, as we used to call him, came to our residence, and the news on the radio flashed the demise of Nehru. Out of utter respect, he proposed to cancel the tour. My parents, both Gandhian freedom fighters, promptly agreed. I was 11, and my father took me to India Gate to see his funeral procession. Hadn't ever seen so many people, many of them weeping. My father put me on back too see Nehru being carried for cremation.
Yet, I was a little astonished when some people say, the Soviets (I had rather call them Russians) came to see Nehru "spontaneously" in 1955. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) had a complete control over the the country. My experience as Moscow correspondent of Patriot and Link from 1986 to 1993 suggests, every move, including demonstrations, were controlled through trained cadres.
This regimentation had just begun to collapse under Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost in 1986. I could imagine the type of society USSR was in 1955, when the control was extremely tight, no dissent was allowed, it was in fact ruthlessly suppressed. Even before the second world war many who disagreed with Stalin, including top military personnel, would mysteriously disappear, were killed.
Things continued after the war; there was ethnic cleansing of those who were considered "anti-Soviet". It eased a little after Stalin died under Khrushchev, but dissent was not allowed. How could a spontaneous show be allowed, unless permitted by the powers that be? No doubt, Russians liked India and Nehru even in 1980s, when I was there, but not so much as to go out and greet an Indian leader, or for that matter any other foreign dignitary.
I can safely presume, the then Soviet authorities appeared to consider "popular" support an effort to influence Nehru in order to ensure that India, an upcoming influencer under him around the world as a NAM leader, became, if not part of the Soviet bloc, at least a close friend which maintained a distance with "imperialist" USA, the other superpower.

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