Kochi: A mass upsurge, the Liberation Struggle, was sweeping across Kerala when Fidel Castro led his guerrilla army to Havana in January 1959. So the fervour of the new wave of revolution emanating from the obscure island in South America failed to inspire the comrades in Kerala. They were more interested in the mundane task of ensuring the safety of the first elected communist government in the state. Ironically, the situation was not better in Kremlin too, the then headquarters of global communism. On hearing of Castro’s revolution, the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev reportedly asked his advisors to pull out a map and trace the geographical location of Cuba.
So the Cuban revolution and the band of guerrillas led by Castro remained more of an enigma for the Communists in Kerala and the rest of the country for quite long. But the situation changed after the martyrdom of Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967. The image of Che becoming the iconic symbol of revolution brought the Cuban model as an inspiring example across the world. But in India and Kerala it coincided with the Naxalite uprising forcing the parliamentary communist parties like CPI and CPM to downplay the Cuba model. A CPM-inspired publishing house even withheld the translation of Bolivian Diary by Che fearing the likely impact of the same.
The imagery of Castro and Che became integral parts of the iconography of CPI and CPM in the state in the 1980s. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites in East Europe, and China becoming a full-fledged capitalist economy in the name of socialism, prompted the comrades in the state to cling on to the Cuban imagery. Every street corner in the state was thus filled with the graffiti of the Cuban leaders. Ironically, by that time, Cuba had reduced itself to be a nostalgic legacy than a shining example for the future.
Cuba Mukundan, the character enacted by Srinivasan in a Lal Jose film, epitomises the transformation of the revolutionary ideal into an ingredient of comic relief in mass entertainment industry. Apart from the rhetoric, the inspiring achievements attained by Cuba in education, health care and agriculture failed to have any major impact on the policy formulations of the Left parties in the state.