Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh in the heart and mind of Indian nation


Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh in the heart and mind of Indian nation

In my 38 years as a diplomat, I have visited many countries and met people from all over the world, but nowhere have I met people who reserved such special affection for Ho Chi Minh and Viet Nam as in India.

In my 38 years as a diplomat, I have visited many countries and met people from all over the world, but nowhere have I met people who reserved such special affection for Ho Chi Minh and Viet Nam as in India. I was stationed in India twice. The first time was from 2003 to 2007 as Minister Counsellor, Deputy Chief of the Viet Nam Embassy in India. In 2014, I returned as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Viet Nam to India. This time, not only was I pleasantly surprised by the positive changes that have taken place while I was gone,  but also by the fact that during all that time, the affection shared by the Indian people towards Viet Nam and Ho Chi Minh has not wavered.

I have witnessed the show of such affection several times. One occasion in particular stuck to my mind. It was during the official visit of the Chairwoman of the National Assembly of Viet Nam Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan at the end of 2016. The agenda included a visit to one of the Lok Sabha (India’s Lower House of Parliament) debates. Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and the Vietnamese Delegate entered the auditorium and settled in the back quietly just as the debate was getting heated; Indian senators were asserting their opinions, sometimes even shouting or hitting the table repeatedly for emphasis. But as soon as the Chairwoman of the Lok Sabha introduced the presence of the Vietnamese delegation, the whole auditorium went so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. After a welcome speech by the Chairwoman, the hall erupted into a booming applause. The tension that was previously in the air dissipated. If there were ever any disagreements between the senators, it was no longer detectable in the room.

Many of those in the Vietnamese delegation were puzzled by the turns of events, but I quickly explained that this was not uncommon or hard to understand at all. 

India is one of the most diverse countries in the world with over 2000 ethnic groups and over 700 dialects spoken, with 22 considered official languages. It is also the cradle of many major religions in the world, including Hinduism, a religion which worships not one but many Gods, showing a respect for diversity in beliefs. India also has around 50 different political parties, often at odds with each other, especially at the Parliament. So what has kept the diverse Indian nation from falling apart in the face of so much diversity?

Through my own research and observation, I gradually realized that it is the collective tolerance as well as the firmness of laws that are the anchor of stability for the Indian society. Through my own experience and interaction with the people of India, from the highest level of leaders belonging to different political parties, to the commoners, it was apparent that Viet Nam - Ho Chi Minh is a symbol of independence, perseverance, and grit. Viet Nam - Ho Chi Minh remains a great source of motivation for all of India. The people of India might be divided on political viewpoints, but they are united in their shared affection and solidarity for Viet Nam. Throughout my 7 and a half years of living in India, I felt that the affection the people and leaders of India reserved for Viet Nam and Ho Chi Minh was pure and unwavering, in fact, it only deepened as the days went on. And although this was apparent to me in my feelings, I wanted to find a logical explanation.

Looking back the history of Viet Nam - India relations, India has always been a loyal friend to Viet Nam in its fight against colonialism and imperialism, and has helped Viet Nam protect its independence and build the country.

Viet Nam gained independence in 1945. Two years later, India also gained independence, during which time Viet Nam was fighting off the French re-invasion. Since its early days, India’s foreign policy has been clear on its stance against colonialism, imperialism, and racial discrimination. In fact, India’s first Prime MinisternJawarhalal Nehru stated that “India’s policy is against imperialism anywhere in the world.” This sentiment shows the support of India for the Viet Minh government then.

However, at that time, India has not officially acknowledged any side in Indo-China. India invited both the Viet Nam Socialist Republic government as well as the Bao Dai puppet government to the “Asian Relations Conference” in 1947. From the very beginning, as a big country, it has acted accordingly by taking up interest in the South East Asia region. Prime Minister Nehru called for a stop to the war in this region for fear that it would affect the independence of other Asian countries.  To secure their position on the international playground, India was steadfast in internationalizing the conflict in Indo-China. India applauded the 1954 Geneva Convention, viewing it as a major win against the American’s plot to hinder the negotiation. Thanks to their efforts to assert their role, India was chosen as the Chairman of the International Supervisory Commission.  In this new role, India’s Prime Minister Nehru paid a visit to North Viet Nam just days after Ha Noi was liberated on 10 October 1954. Although he also made another visit to South Viet Nam 2 months later, it only served to worsen the relationship between India and the South Viet Nam’s government. Meanwhile, North Viet Nam and India became closer than ever. President Ho Chi Minh, in return, paid a visit to India in 1958, and one year later India’s President Rajendera Prasad also visited Viet Nam.

President Ho Chi Minh spent 3 days in India where he visited its 3 biggest cities Kolkata, New Delhi, and Bombay. He won the hearts of the people of India with his mild but courteous manners and his omnipresent air of greatness, and also with his sincere admiration for the Ganges civilization and India’s place as a big country in the world.

This visit solidified the personal relationship between President Ho Chi Minh and Prime Minister Nehru. In fact, their close relationship has been fostered many years before. In 1943, while Jawaharlal Nehru was imprisoned by the British colonizers and Ho Chi Minh by Chiang Kai-Shek, President Ho sent Jawaharlal Nehru an encouraging poem:
“I am struggling, you are active
You are in Jail, I am in prison
Ten thousand miles apart, we have not met
We communicate without words.
Shared ideas link you and me
What we lack is personal encounter
I am jailed by a neighbouring friend
You are chaned and fettered by the enemy”

President Ho Chi Minh’s 1958 visit was a pivotal point in the long history of Viet Nam - India friendship. It laid the foundation for trust and friendship between the two countries. Both countries had to fight against a common enemy that is imperialism; this fostered a special mutual understanding and empathy that has given Viet Nam - India a unique bond.

Since that first visit, Viet Nam - Ho Chi Minh has become a symbol of unwavering courage in the face of imperialism to the peole of India. It is also apparent that India’s fondness of Viet Nam’s fight for independence influenced its support for North Viet Nam while India was the Chairman of the International Supervisory Commission of the Geneva Convention.

I suppose that it was also this fondness that helped India maintain cordiality towards Viet Nam, even when Viet Nam was stuck in a dilemma during the India – China war of 1962. Viet Nam was unable to take India’s side as it needed China’s support to fight the Viet Nam War.

In fact, the love and support of the Indian people for Viet Nam - Ho Chi Minh became stronger and more apparent when the United States started bombing the North and raging war in the South. Protests againsts the U.S. spread from Kolkata to other cities with the slogan “Amar Nam Tomar Nam, Viet Nam Viet Nam”, which means “Our name, your name: Viet Nam Viet Nam.” On 19 May 1970, infront of the U.S. Embassy on Harrington street at the center of Kolkata, Indian protesters shouted in unison “ In arms with Viet Nam” and declared a change of name to the then “Harrington street” to “Ho Chi Minh Sarani”. Shortly after, the new name was officially recognized by the local Kolkata government and later on, a Ho Chi Minh statue was erected in a square near this street.
It was not only the Indian people who supported Viet Nam’s fight for independence, the Indian government also showed their support in their role as the Chairman of the International Supervisory Commission of the Geneva Convention by expressing their concerns over the aggressive bombing of the North by the Americans in 1965. In fact, in 1966, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called for an immediate stop to the bombing and for a solution within the Geneva Agreement framework to the ongoing conflict in Viet Nam.

The passing-away of President Ho Chi Minh in 1969 was a big shock to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In her condolences letter, she wrote: “He was not only a man of peace, but an extraordinarily courteous, friendly, simple, and humble individual. He was the Leader of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, but he didn’t isolate himself in a grand palace away from the people. He was a man of people. He was a leader who knew how to combine an exceptional generosity with an unwavering firmness. From any way that you look at it, it is undeniable that Ho Chi Minh was one of the most notable men in the world”
[2]. At the same time, India’s Democratic Paper published an article on 14/09/1969 detailing a biography of President Ho Chi Minh which ended with the conclusion that “The world has had to tip their hat to the people of Viet Nam. They have shed blood and tears to write the most glorious page of victory in the history of the fight for independence by all countries all over the world. They were able to create such a shockwave thanks to their collective determination and the leadership of the revolution - Marxist-Leninist student Ho Chi Minh”[3].

It was this special affection reserved for Ho Chi Minh and Viet Nam that fueled the support of the Indian government and its people for Viet Nam during the war. On 2 October 1970, at the United Nations, India demanded that the U.S. must announce a definitive date for pulling out of Viet Nam. India’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Swaran Singh announced in Lok Sabha on 26 April 1972 that “The liberation of Bandalesh was monumental and heroic, and so are the liberation efforts of Viet Nam today.”

In the same year, relations between the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam and the Republic of India were upgraded to a full diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level, meanwhile its relationship with South Viet Nam remained at a Consulate level. It was this decision that triggered the Saigon government to stop granting visas to the Indian envoy belonging to the International Supervisory Commission of the Geneva Agreement stationed in Saigon at the time. India was also supportive of the Paris Agreement in 1973 and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Indo-China.  

During the end of the 1970s, India started the process of normalizing their relationship with China, but when China invaded Viet Nam in 1979, India’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vajpayee, who was at that time on an official visit to China, cut short his trip without hesitation to show his disapproval. On 22 February 1979, speaking to the Parliament, he outwardly condemned China’s invasion of Viet Nam and demanded that China must pull out of Viet Nam immediately. India was also a fervent critique of the Polpot genocide regime.

India was the only non-Communist country to recognize the Heng Xom-rin government on 7 July 1980. Not only was India on Viet Nam’s side regarding the Cambodia issues, Viet Nam also received food aid from India when Viet Nam was encircled and sanctioned by the West, the U.S. and China. For Viet Nam, material aid and support on the diplomatic front at this time was of vital importance, as the old Vietnamese adage goes “a tiny piece when hungry is equal to an entire cake when full.” This reflects the depth and loyalty of the Viet Nam - India relationship.

In the 1990s, as India began its reforms and Viet Nam began its “Doi moi - renovation” process. The India - Viet Nam relationship also began a new phase. India was one of the first countries to invest in Viet Nam since 1988 with an oil-gas extraction project in Viet Nam’s Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental shelf in the (bỏ South China Sea) (thay bằng East Sea of Viet Nam). Bilateral trade has been expanding continuously, growing from only a few hundred millions a year  in the early 1990s to over 10 billion USD in 2018.

As the situation of the Asia-Pacific region became more complex, the Viet Nam - India ties only became stronger. A strategic partnership between Viet Nam and India was established in 2007, and was upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2016. Viet Nam’s place in India’s foreign policy is gaining in importance year by year. Indeed, India’s leaders have stated many times that Viet Nam is an important pillar in India’s Act East Policy.

The foundation for the existing comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries is the mutual strategic benefits of both countries, stemming from similar existing challenges and opportunities. That foundation is further fortified by the unwavering empathy and solidarity between the two countries, as well as the admiration for President Ho Chi Minh and his country by the people of India.

Nowadays, India and Viet Nam are reaping the fruits of the mutual trust and understanding shared by the governments and people of the two countries. Such a successful relationship would not have been possible if not for the efforts of leaders like Ho Chi Minh and Jawaharlal Nehru who laid the sturdy foundation for the Viet Nam - India relationship.
[1] Ho Chi Minh, “To Nehru” Complete works, Volume 3 (1930-1945), The third edition, National Political Publishing House of Viet Nam - Su that, Ha Noi., 2011, p. 402. Translate to English by Mach Le Thu from Hoang Trung Thong translated Vietnamese version.
[2] The world eulogy for President Ho Chi Minh, National Political Publishing House of Viet Nam - Su that, Ha Noi, 1976, pp.213-214.
[3] Bijay Kumar Padhihari, Hồ Chí Minh through the eyes of Indians, Indian Society for Cultural Cooperation and Friendship, 2018, p.127

Author: Dr. Ton Sinh Thanh, Former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam to the Republic of India.

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