The Stalinist Reading of Sri Lanka’s Place in the Indian Firmament

Cafe Spectator’s Thoughts in Sunday Times, 20 March 2022

Considering the current Ukraine crisis, a historical anecdote on Sri Lanka–then Ceylon–between former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and former Indian Ambassador to Russia Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who later became India’s second President, is making the rounds in diplomatic circles these days.


The story goes that the Indian ambassador was giving a brief tour of India by showing a map of the country.

Pointing out the tiny island located in India’s backyard, the Soviet leader reportedly asked “What’s this tiny Indian island?” to which the Ambassador responded “This is not an Indian island. It’s Ceylon, an independent nation.” Stalin was puzzled for a moment and then asked: “Why?”

The anecdote between the former Soviet leader and the former Indian Ambassador is included in a record of the conversation that took place on January 15, 1950. This can be found in the digital archive of the Wilson Centre in the United States as well.

This is what the official transcript of the conversation says: “Stalin asked if Ceylon was a separate state and whether its separation was so necessary and LAUGHED. He further enquired if court *language* had any AFFINITY with any Indian Language and was informed of position.”

“The interview was pleasant and lasted half an hour. PAVLOV, the Head of the North Europe Division of the Soviet Foreign Office and former Counsellor in London, acted as interpreter. Stalin smoked cigarettes continuously and LAUGHED occasionally. He appeared in quite good health and was alert and attentive. The interview took place in a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere.”

Recent diplomatic developments and economic assistance followed by frequent visits by top government leaders as Sri Lanka is facing the worst economic crisis since Independence raise the pertinent question whether the country is becoming another satellite state of the regional big brother.


Filed under accountability, centre-periphery relations, demography, economic processes, governance, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, landscape wondrous, meditations, politIcal discourse, power politics, Russian history, self-reflexivity, the imaginary and the real, world events & processes

2 responses to “The Stalinist Reading of Sri Lanka’s Place in the Indian Firmament

  1. Hello Mike,

    Thanks for posting this silly ‘Cafe Spectator’s Thoughts story, about Stalin and Radhakrishnan. For me, this story doesn’t fly at all.

    It is stated, that Stalin was puzzled to learn that ‘Ceylon was an independent nation’, from Radhakrishnan. Really? Do you think realistically, Stalin was so dumb? He should have been playing a joke, with the philosopher, who was posted to Soviet Union only in 1949, as the Indian ambassador.

    Stalin’s eyes were on Ceylon, during the 1947 General Election, when Trotsky-supporters (N.M. Perera and his gang) received sizeable amount of votes in the 1947 election, so that NMP became the Leader of the Opposition. Stalin had kept ‘an eye’ Trostsky’s flag wavers, anywhere in the world, even after he had arranged to send his nemesis Trotsky to the ‘netherland’ with a pick axe, in Mexico in 1940. Until he died in 1953, Stalin used his veto vote so as, not to allow Ceylon to enter UN.

    On this, I did write 9 years ago, to the sangam site. Please check this link

    • Blyat

      I think you misunderstood. Stalin was implying that Ceylon shouldn’t have been an independent nation to the Indian Ambassador and rather be annexed by them.

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