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.