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Our Roy-al connection with Mexico
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Los Cabos, Mexico, for the G20 summit went almost unnoticed in the bilateral context, notwithstanding the hosts' good-natured attempt to welcome him with a "Aap ka swagat hain (We welcome you)" banner in Hindi. Although Singh held a one-on-one with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, it was somewhat of a sideshow. Most Indians are now so seduced by the United States and so much in thrall of being part of the high table at the big boys club that we really don't have much time for this great country, the first Latin American nation that recognised us after Independence, especially since it is being eclipsed in this part of the world by Brazil, who we regard as somewhat a peer.
This is not surprising. The United States tends to overwhelm its two immediate neighbours. Canada is dismissed by some as "America's attic", a conflicted country that is "trying to convince the British that it is not American and to convince the US that it is not British". Al Capone is said to have sneered, "I don't even know what street Canada is on. " The fate of Mexico, lacking Canada's huge natural resources, is worse. "Poor Mexico - so far from God and so close to the United States, " the Mexican leader Porfirio Diaz is said to have remarked. Mexico and Canada are to the US what in some ways Nepal and Sri Lanka are to India - proud, independent countries that are nevertheless overshadowed by its giant neighbour. For the record, US-India two-way trade stands at $100 billion, while Mexico-India trade stands at $4 billion. Indian population in the US stands at 3 million people, while the Indian population in Mexico stands at just 3, 000 people.
Still, Mexico, like Canada, managed to establish its own equation with India, sending to New Delhi as ambassador in the 1960s one of its most expansive minds and elegant pens, the scholarly and erudite Octavio Paz, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990. Mexico also played a key role in India's Green Revolution, since the American pioneer Norman Borlaug achieved much of his breakthroughs here with the wheat variety Sonora, named after a region in Mexico. In fact, when the Nobel committee announced the Peace Prize for Borlaug in 1970, he was out in the boonies in Toluca Valley outside Mexico City, and his wife had to drive out to break the news to him (he thought it was a hoax). Mexico and India have one other Nobel connection: Rabindranath Tagore visited Mexico City in 1918, an event commemorated in the opening of the Gurudev Tagore Indian Cultural Centre in the capital in 2010.
All this is fairly well-chronicled and cranked out by our mandarins to talk up Indo-Mexican ties for what it is worth. But there is one little known Indian connection to Mexico that deserves greater attention. Around the time Gurudev Tagore was embarking on a visit to Mexico, a young Indian revolutionary named Narendra Nath Bhattacharya, better known as Manabendra Nath Roy or M N Roy, arrived here from New York City, and founded what became the Communist Party of Mexico, the first Communist Party outside Russia. Roy would then go on to Moscow to meet Lenin and thereafter co-found the Communist Party of India before internecine conflicts within the Communist movement and disillusionment led him to become what he called a "radical humanist".
But his Mexican connection has been long forgotten, and certainly no one seemed to recall it when Prime Minister Singh visited the capital earlier this month. In fact, the house that Roy once lived in Mexico City's Roma district, which was abandoned after the 1985 earthquake, was recently converted into a hip nightclub by French architects Emmanuel Picault and Ludwig Godefroy, who left the name intact and called it the M N Roy nightclub in an ironic tribute to the gentrification of the once rundown suburb.
Today, Mexico is, sadly, better known for its murderous drug-related violence and illegal border crossing than for its struggle to maintain its democratic - and demographic - dignity (" Why do Mexicans keep trying again and again? Because they are Mexi-cans and not Mexi-can'ts" goes one nasty joke). The country is going to the polls this Sunday, and at least with respect to electoral democracy, it has much in common with India, especially the heat, noise and dust. Some years back, visiting the Bata shoe museum in Toronto, I was surprised when my hostess Sonya Bata, wife of the Bata scion, showed me among her collection (which included the black pumps Indira Gandhi wore on the day she was assassinated), the campaign boots of Vincente Fox, who had just become Mexico's President. It was caked with dirt and mud - wages of a hard-fought electoral campaign far removed from the sanitised, television campaign its northern neighbour has perfected. Mexico is at it again this week. Buena Suerte, amigos.
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