Old fires still burn in India-Russia ties

By Manish Chand, IANS

Moscow : Not many know that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is an old Russia hand and has known the Russian leadership and bureaucracy personally for decades.

Support TwoCircles

His link with Russia goes back to the 1970s when he was secretary in the finance ministry. He has been deeply involved with the knotty rupee-rouble trade that has stalked India-Russia ties for years, recalls his media adviser Sanjaya Baru.

The rupee-rouble trade agreement between India and Russia, which will be signed here, bears the personal stamp of Manmohan Singh. He knows the issue inside out and will often tell officials in a ‘I told you’ tone about significant details and intricacies about this issue, Baru says.

It is because of his personal rapport that Russian President Vladimir Putin was the only head of government to have called him on his birthday in September. For all the talk about India’s strategic embrace of the US and nuclear deal, US President George W. Bush didn’t bother to call.

That’s the difference between old and new friends, an official quipped, smirking at spin stories in the media about a chill in India-Russia ties. Where is the chill? Our relations are getting hotter and hotter, he crooned.


‘Russi topi’

Old passions don’t dim easily. The old-fashioned India-Russia camaraderie was in full flow at an Uzbek restaurant in downtown Moscow where journalists accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were treated to haunting old Hindi film songs of legendary Indian showbiz impresario Raj Kapoor.

The restaurant called Khwaja Nasreddin, a sufi saint known for his irresistible sense of humour and satirical gifts, had a touch of familiarity for Indian journalists. As the singer belted out “Mera Joota Hai Japani … Phir bhi lal Topi Russi”, almost every journalist hummed along.

Red Russia may no longer inspire revolutionary fervour, but it still kindles nostalgia about the good old days of India-Russia bonhomie when Uncle Sam was not even in the picture.