When a substantial section of the Indian people are making such a public display of their veneration of a former chief minister it might appear inappropriate to draw attention to a call to shun personality-politics. Yet the fact that the desire to avoid hero-worship was expressed by a universally-acclaimed icon makes it imperative to highlight the ban imposed by the authorities in Cuba on naming streets, monuments, etc., after Fidel Castro. That ban, Castro’s brother and successor Raul, announced, was to fulfill Fidel’s desire that “once dead, his name and likeness would never be used on institutions, streets, parks or other public sites, and that busts, statues or other forms of tribute would never be erected”. And it must be noted that the man the world hailed as a true revolutionary had taken that position even when at the height of his authority. Raul made that point when addressing international leaders and thousands of Cubans gathered to say their final farewell to one of the most noteworthy leaders of his generation.
Though Fidel Castro was admired all across the Indian political spectrum, his aversion to cult-politics never trickled down. Both national as well as regional leaders enjoyed being hailed as special individuals, and it is no surprise that their names adorn institutions of all descriptions. Nehru, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi are not the only ones who are thus “honoured” — the present government is making no secret of similarly “recognising” its own stalwarts.
At the regional level things have gone the same way — maybe that is integral to Indian culture. For it cuts across religious, caste and regional divides: are there not frequent demands for postage stamps, roads, various programmes, and sporting contests being named after “leaders”? Often rather ugly disputes arise from such “competitive” idolising — recall the quarrels over statues/portraits in Parliament House. That only adds to the unique mystique of Fidel Castro. Just across the Florida Straits the Navy names aircraft-carriers after former Presidents and the Army its tanks after ex-generals. That brand of “honour” probably has its roots in Europe where the names of Kings, Queens and Princes are as frequently linked with colleges, hospitals, etc., as those of Saints. Whether the message that Castro sought to deliver will have any positive, salutary impact is something only time will tell — “Amma” will live long in canteens, medical stores, etc., in Tamil Nadu.
Yet reverence is not always the inspiration. During the late 1970s, a number of residential clusters sprang up in the Indian capital, many had “Sanjay” included in their names. All of them were “unauthorised, their taking the name of the all-powerful son of the then Prime Minister was “insurance” against the demolition squad.