By Annette Chrysostomou
An exhibition which was unveiled this week at the presidential palace to mark the state visit of the Indian President Ram Nath Kovind depicts the long history between Cyprus and India – much of it through the pages of the 73-year-old Cyprus Mail.
Apart from photographs, a bust of Gandhi, stamps and other memorabilia, copies of seven Cyprus Mail front pages – covering the state visits of prime ministers and presidents of the two countries over the years – were on the walls of the exhibition room to tell the story of historical events.
“Where else in the world would you find another capital city [Nicosia] where the Indian High Commission is located on Indira Gandhi street and the national Parliament on Jahawarlal Nehru avenue with a statue of Mahatma Gandhi right next to it? These are declarations of friendship more eloquent than any words,” is the quote on the wall by India’s former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that perhaps best sums up what Indian-Cypriot relations are all about.
This was said in 2002, but the good relationship was well and truly underway by the time of Makarios’ visit to India in November 1962, when Makarios talked of the “sincere friendship and common ideals” of the two countries.
The press at the time also spoke of the visit which was headlined by the Cyprus Mail as “Tumultuous welcome in New Delhi.”
With more than half a million people lining the streets to welcome and cheer him, Makarios “has won the love of the Indian people because of his support for their struggle” against the then Chinese aggression, thus developing a friendship between the two countries for the following years, the paper said.
The article referred to the Sino-Indian war, a dispute mainly over a Himalaya border, which lasted from October 20 until November 21 that year. It was during this time, on November 2, that Makarios visited India.
In July 1972, when Indian President Shri V.V Giri visited Cyprus, the main topic picked up by the media shifted to the conflict between the communities in Cyprus, with Giri saying he viewed it as “little disputes that exist between brothers in a family”, adding “the dispute seems to be of a very insignificant character.”
In 1983 the Cyprus Mail reported on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s visit to Cyprus and the observation that while at first glance no two countries could be more dissimilar, yet they have something in common.
“We have both been nurseries of early cultures, witnesses of the tender shoots of thought and creativity growing into broad green leaves on the tree of human intellect.” She also reportedly called Cyprus “a great little island”.
The following year, in November 1984 the unfortunate death of Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards, was inevitably front-page news. The government declared the day of her funeral a public holiday.
A visit in 1988 by Indian President Ramaswami Venkataraman was the topic of an article which is also part of the exhibition. He and his counterpart George Vassiliou referred to the “traditionally cordial relations” between Cyprus and India and expressed mutual admiration and respect for each other’s national figures, Mahatma Gandhi of India and Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus.
Indian-Cypriot relations further strengthened in 2002, after a three-day official visit of the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This time, apart from signing agreements, the poetic ties between the two countries received a boost, with Cypriots publishing a translation of the Indian PMs poems.
President Pratibha Devisingh Patil was the last president before Ram Nath Kovind to visit Cyprus, in 2009.
With additional reporting by Doris Christodoulou