The Soviet land, 1955

Jawaharlal Nehru had spent 16 days in the USSR, covering some 13,000km, on his first official tour to the country as the prime minister of India
The Soviet land, 1955
The Soviet land, 1955

Back in 1955 they had a sense of occasion and world travel still meant something. And a State Visit meant a lot. In June of that year our first PM Jawaharlal Nehru travelled to Moscow for his first official tour of the USSR (he had been once before in 1927 as an Indian National Congress delegate to the 10th anniversary celebration of the October Revolution). His daughter was with him and they began an epic itinerary from Moscow to Leningrad by way of Stalingrad, Crimea, Georgia, Ashkabad, Tashkent, Samarkand, the Altai Territory, Magnitogorsk, and Sverdlovsk.

The full story was told in a commemorative album Jawaharlal Nehru in the Soviet Union, published by the State Fine Arts Publishing House, Moscow, the same year.

&ldquoIn Moscow the Indian Prime Minister visited the Stalin Auto Works, an aircraft plant, the USSR Agricultural Exhibition, Moscow University, Secondary School No 545, the Metro, the exhibition of Indian culture and art, the Kremlin, and laid a wreath at the Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum.&rdquo

Uncle Joe&rsquos embalmed corpse was just two years old and still one year away from disgrace and eviction from the mausoleum. So Nehru dutifully did the rounds of the Stalingrad Tractor Plant, the Stalin Tsaritsyn Defence Museum, the Stalin Iron and Steel Plant&hellip

With his own public persona already mythologised as Chacha Nehru, the Prime Minister had to endure more than his share of &lsquoYoung Pioneers&rsquo.

&ldquoThe meetings with schoolchildren were particularly moving. The Soviet children proudly told the Prime Minister of their Happy Life and asked him to convey warm greetings to the children of India and to pass on an invitation for them to visit the Soviet Union.&rdquo

Vladimir Putin&rsquos Happy Life was just three years old.

Nehru visited the Bolshoi of course, for performances of Swan Lake and The Fountain of Bakchiserai. Years later, in 2001 the prima ballerina recalled Nehru&rsquos "thin, aristocratic sandalwood fingers" in her autobiography I, Maya Plisetskaya.

There was occasion for diplomacy and intrigue too, with Nehru famously rejecting Bulganin&rsquos offer to propose India as the sixth member of the Security Council, ahead of China.

By the time he left, Nehru had spent 16 days in the USSR covering some 13,000km. But they don&rsquot make state visits like that anymore. Just last November Prime Minister Vajpayee visited Russia and stayed for all of three days.

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