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'Yasser Arafat represented heroism'

Our Political Bureau  |  New Delhi 

When the government decided to include United Progressive Alliance (UPA) leader Sonia Gandhi in the delegation to attend the funeral of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, no one was particularly surprised.
The Gandhi family has had a deep and affectionate personal relationship with the charismatic PLO chief who would come to India at every available opportunity, loved dal makhni and tandoori chicken and made Indira Gandhi his "unofficial sister".
It was impossible to be in the same room as Arafat and be untouched by his presence. In the early 1990s, when India had just announced that it was establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, Arafat visited India just to prove the point that though he was disappointed by New Delhi's decision, he understood the reason for it.
On that occasion he stayed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and met Cabinet ministers and political leaders. One of those leaders told Business Standard later that Arafat's standard greeting was either to grab you in a bone-crushing handshake or kiss you on the forehead.
Warmth and passion radiated from him. Even in the Rashtrapati Bhavan he wore a pistol in a green holster. When asked what it was for, he guffawed and said: "Show me an Israeli and I will tell you what it is for".
Given the background of Arafat's relationship with India, not just Gandhi but Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs E Ahmed and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury formed the delegation that left late evening today for Cairo.
For each one of these leaders, Arafat represented heroism and greatness. Rahul, whom he met at a private dinner when the young Gandhi was still in school, was subjected to one of Arafat's bear hugs, in acknowledgement of a grand-nephew.

First Published: Fri, November 12 2004. 00:00 IST