He visited India several times.
On Thursday, 17 June, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, founder President of Zambia passed away in Lusaka at the age of 97.
I first met him in New York in April 1962. He had come to New York to appear before the Decolonisation Committee (popularly known as the Committee of 17). India was one among these 17. I was the Indian representative.
He had come as a petitioner from Northern Rhodesia, then a British colony. He had brought with him Sir Stewart Gore-Bron, a prominent and forward looking planter, and T.L. Desai, an Indian businessman, a member of Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independent Party, UNIP. His presentation made profound impression on the Committee.
Two years later, he addressed the UN General Assembly as President of Zambia. I was High Commissioner to Zambia from September 1977 to April 1980. During these years I got to know President Kaunda intimately. I came to admire his Gandhian lifestyle. In his residence he had a photograph of the Mahatma.
After 26 years as President and a frontline African leader, he retired from politics, having lost the Presidential election in 1991.
In 1970, the third Non-Aligned Summit was held in Lusaka. I accompanied Indira Gandhi to Lusaka. She and Kaunda were on first names. President Kaunda presided over the Summit with great skill. In 1979, the Commonwealth Summit was also held in Lusaka. Our delegation was led by Shyamnandan Misra. His was an embarrassing performance. President Kaunda said to me, “Natwar, what has happened to India?” What could I say?
He visited India several times. During 7th Non-Aligned Summit held in New Delhi in March 1983 he made one of the most impressive speeches. By then he had become one of the most admired and respected leaders of Africa in both the Non-Aligned Movement and the Commonwealth.
Soon after my arrival in Lusaka, President Kaunda in a letter to Prime Minister Morarji Desai wrote generously about me:
“Finally and on a different subject may I say, as a mark of sincere appreciation of your new envoy to Zambia, His Excellency High Commissioner Kunwar Natwar Singh is settling down very well. I am very pleased with his rare political insight and fast speed at which he is clearly grasping the complexities of the current Southern African crises.
“I must say I was somewhat apprehensive when I heard you were taking out your previous High Commissioner, a man I found very capable. I did not, of course, know the replacement you were going to send us. To my great satisfaction you have just sent us the right man.
“As it happens, I have known His Excellency Mr. Kunwar Natwar Singh since the days of Zambia’s struggle for independence. While he was at the UN he was extremely helpful to me when I had to present Zambia’s case for independence to the United Nations. You could certainly not have picked a better person as your envoy in this region at this time of complicated liberation issues in Rhodesia, Namibia and South Africa.”
Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s response was as tardy as it could be: “I hope that Natwar Singh comes up to your expectations…” Morarji was a narrow minded, vengeful man. He totally disapproved of my closeness to Indira Gandhi.
Any other IFS, Head of Mission would have kept silent. Constituted as I am, I wrote to Morarji Desai.
“Dear Prime Minister,
“On my return to Lusaka, (from home leave), I saw your reply to President Kaunda’s letter of 18.12.1977. The President referred to my work in generous terms. Normally government should have welcomed this. The extreme austerity of your reply must make my task in Lusaka infinitely more difficult. I am sure it was not your intention of your High Commissioner to Zambia, but such an inference can be drawn and is being drawn. This is not a personal matter.
“Having been called a distinguished and trusted citizen in my credentials. I continue to hope that I have your fullest trust and confidence, without which no diplomatic agent can discharge his duties and responsibilities.”
On 11th December 1993, former President Kenneth Kaunda wrote to me from Lusaka.
“My Dear Natwar,
“I have just arrived from overseas. This of course included my wonderful visit to India—wonderful because I enjoyed every moment of my short stay. This was so because I was witness to some phenomenal growth of India.
“May I congratulate both Sonia Gandhi, yourself and indeed the staffers a whole for a job extremely well done. I wish you more and more success in the future…