New Delhi: Against the backdrop of a string of attacks on Africans residing in different parts of the country, President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday became the first Indian leader to warn the public at large against diluting “our long tradition of friendship with the people of Africa.”
Addressing the delegates of the 7th annual heads of mission conference, the president said,”It would be most unfortunate if the people of India were to dilute our long tradition of friendship with the people of Africa and the welcome we have always extended to them in our country. African students in India should have no reason to fear for their safety and security.”
He said care should be taken to uphold India’s ethos and the core values of its ancient civilisation. “We shall have to create appropriate awareness in the minds of our youngsters who may not know the history, the age-old relations (between India and Africa)…India has had trading relations with African countries for centuries and every one of the 54 countries of Africa has a thriving Indian community doing business, industry.”
“We cannot allow these to be jeopardised in any way and create a bad precedent which is not the ethos, which is not part of the core values of our civilisation,” a Rashtrapati Bhavan statement quoted Mukherjee as having told the gathering of top Indian diplomats.
President Mukherjee said history was full of examples of Africans settling in India and Indians settling in Africa.
He said he was happy that the ministry of external affairs in consultation with ministry of home affairs is proactively following up on the few isolated incidents that have occurred and working closely with the authorities to ensure the safety of African students in India.
Mukherjee said the bonds between the people of India and the people of Africa have been forged since time immemorial. “As a political activist, as a member of parliament, I have noticed how close we (India and Africa) are with each other. Almost a century ago Rabindranath Tagore wrote a beautiful poem titled ‘Africa’, expressing his anguish, pathos, sense of pain on Apartheid,” he said.
Mukherjee said leaders like Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana stood shoulder to shoulder with Jawaharlal Nehru at the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung in 1955 and in founding the Non-aligned Movement in 1961.
“Nelson Mandela was an embodiment of Gandhian principles,” the president continued. “India led the long international struggle for the end of colonialism and Apartheid in Africa.”
The president said in 1946 the government of India decided to stop any trade relationship with South Africa till Apartheid was not lifted. “At that time the decision was a bold decision because South Africa accounted for 5% of total international trade with India,” he said. Mukherjee said it was only in 1994, after the end of apartheid, that he as commerce minister restored normal trade relations with the country.
“The whole of India stood in support of African leaders like Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda during this freedom struggle,” he said.
Earlier, the president termed terrorism as a menace which needs to be collectively tackled by the world community with determination. “There is no good terrorist or bad terrorist. Comprehensive cooperation by all countries of the world is essential to tackle this global menace,” he said.
The president’s remarks stand in contrast to the statement made by General (retd) V.K. Singh, the minister tasked by the Modi government to assure African diplomats and students in India that their safety was of paramount concern.
Singh said the recent incidents of violence against Africans were “minor scuffles” and did not amount to racism. “Had detailed discussion with Delhi Police and found that media blowing up minor scuffle as attack on African nationals in Rajpur Khurd… Why is media doing this? As responsible citizens let us question them and their motives,” he said in a series of tweets.
With inputs from PTI