New Delhi: Studious silence on Jawaharlal Nehru from Narendra Modi contrasted with repeated praise from multiple African leaders for India's first Prime Minister today, exposing a gulf in their understanding of the legacy of a relationship New Delhi's biggest diplomatic summit in decades is meant to elevate.
Prime Minister Modi, in two speeches that sandwiched addresses by 26 Presidents, two kings, six Prime Ministers, six Vice-Presidents and the African Union commission chair, referred to Mahatma Gandhi and five African Nobel laureates to point to traditional ties.
Modi did not mention either Nehru or two developing-world initiatives the first Prime Minister of India had heralded with African partners - a conference on Afro-Asian unity in Bandung, Indonesia, and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) - that India officially still swears by.
The Modi government's reluctance, during the first three days of the ongoing Africa summit, to acknowledge Nehru's role in building India's modern relationship with post-colonial Africa had yesterday played a part in Congress leaders boycotting the Prime Minister's dinner for visiting leaders.
But leader after leader from Africa on Thursday 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.
[caption id="attachment_237280" align="alignnone" width="300"] Some of the African leaders who spoke about Jawaharlal Nehru in glowing terms.[/caption]
The invocations did not end with Nehru. Some African leaders such as Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe praised the Congress, which Modi had said during last year's general election campaign needed to be "wiped out".
Some like South African President Jacob Zuma called Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi "visionary" Prime Ministers.
The others who praised Nehru included Morocco's King Mohammed VI, Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Ghana President John Dramani Mahama and Mauritius Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth.
"For many African nations, India's leadership role in institutions like NAM, or in organising the Bandung conference, was something they very much still revere even as they look to the future," Ruchita Beri, senior research associate at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, told The Telegraph. "So this is not surprising at all."
The Modi government has for the first time invited all 54 African heads of government and state to the summit, in its third edition since being inaugurated in 2008. Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Vice-Presidents represented 40 of these nations.
Never since the Non-Aligned Movement and Commonwealth summits of 1983 has India hosted so many world leaders together.
Modi today pointed to the future - and the shared goals and challenges - as the glue that would bind India and Africa together.
"Listening to you has reinforced my conviction that the partnership between India and Africa is natural," Modi said in his concluding address at the end of negotiations between India and the African nations, "because our destinies are so closely inter-linked and our aspirations and challenges are so similar."
But many of his guests also pointed to the past as a key link to the current ties - a link the Modi administration almost completely ignored.
Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, in her four media interactions and public addresses during the summit, did not once mention Nehru although she made one reference to the Bandung conference.
Apart from a two-second image of Nehru and former Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser during a slideshow for the delegates this morning, the former Prime Minister did not figure in government presentations before their guests, officials confirmed.
Two declarations released at the end of the leaders' talks today too were silent on Nehru, the Bandung conference and NAM.
When the African leaders spoke, however, Nehru, NAM and Bandung were recurrent themes.
"Jawaharlal Nehru was an early inspirational figure not just in India but also for Africa," the 91-year-old Mugabe said before praising the "Indian National Congress for showing the route of passive resistance".
"That lesson was learned by us, and in South Africa," added Mugabe who, while talking about Mahatma Gandhi, accidentally said "Indira Gandhi" before correcting himself.
King Mohammed VI referred to "ties between the great Jawaharlal Nehru and my grandfather (King Mohammed V of Morocco)".
Sisi called the cooperation between Nehru and Nasser an "example of why the relationship between Africa and India is among the most successful".
Jugnauth dubbed the Africa summit an outcome of seeds "sown by Nehru" and other NAM leaders.
-The Telegraph Calcutta