Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision to go to Havana for the non-aligned movement (NAM) summit was based more on domestic political compulsions than foreign policy initiatives, a senior South Block official said.
The visit to Cuba would ease the concerns of the allies of the government from the Left parties that India was getting too close to the United States. The throwback to traditional foreign policy affiliations, like NAM, would also assuage concerns of the country's large Islamic population.
The government came under considerable flak for deviating from its “traditional” role as a champion of the developing world when it voted against Iran’s nuclear ambitions at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Known to dislike long foreign tours, Singh, when confronted with a visit to Brazil and either the UN General Assembly's 61st session or the NAM summit, opted for the latter.
The visit to Brazil was necessary, to build upon the fledgling India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) initiative and to attend its first ever stand-alone summit. Brazil, as an increasingly important partner nation, as a member of the group of four (G-4) nations aspiring for permanent places on the UN Security Council, and as a leading developing nation with which commercial ties are expanding, was a must, the official said. Also, no Indian Prime Minister has visited Brazil in 38 years, since Indira Gandhi visited there in 1968.
Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee will head the official delegation to New York for the UNGA. It will be the first time in over a decade that someone other than the PM or the external affairs minister (Jaswant Singh in 1999) has headed the Indian delegation.
The visit to Cuba, from which India took over the chair of the NAM back in 1983 (when President Fidel Castro famously hugged Indira Gandhi while handing over the chair to her) would be a throwback to the “heady days of the NAM”, and comes after 26 years.
“The Prime Minister has a vision for NAM”, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said on Friday, to make it more contemporary and revive its "bridging role" between developed and developing nations.