| The Stalin bust in Mohali. (Reuters)
The Great CPM Bust Rush has begun. Red leaders from the state and one even as far away from Calcutta have begun trooping in to a Mohali bathroom fitting factory not only to catch a glimpse of Josef Stalin’s bust that has landed there as scrap but even place “proposals” to “purchase” it as “first claimants”.
“I went there with West Bengal state secretariat member Comrade Nizamuddin who had come specially to see it,” CPM central committee member Balwant Singh said.
On Tuesday, the Punjab CPM had feigned ignorance about the existence of Stalin’s bust in Mohali, Chandigarh’s twin city. The bust was part of a consignment of brass scrap purchased by Prithpal Singh who manufactures taps and other bathroom accessories. Its origin could be from anywhere in the erstwhile Soviet bloc. This correspondent was asked several times the “value” of the bust by a local leader who even visited the factory later in the day to place his “scrap” proposal.
Balwant on Friday said the party had proposed that it would make good all the expenses incurred by Prithpal to get the statue to his factory if he sold it to the CPM.
“I told him that the statue was important for us ideologically. I also reminded him that the bust was as dear to us as Jawaharlal Nehru’s is for the Congress. If he gave it to us we would keep it in our Chandigarh office or in Delhi with a plaque stating how it reached Prithpal’s factory and how well it had been kept there. Prithpal’s role would be dutifully recorded for all times to come. He was very good to us, listened patiently and said he would think about the proposal,” Balwant said.
The central committee member reasoned that if the bust fell in “wrong hands” it could be used for ulterior motives. “It can be used as a political tool for political gains by some parties or end up as a decoration piece in somebody’s drawing room. The first claimant for the statue is the CPM and nobody else,” he added.
Prithpal, when contacted, however, said he would not sell the bust. “It is not money that will make me sell it to anybody. For two years I neither melted it to make flashy bathroom accessories to adorn rich homes nor did I knock media doors for publicity despite my brother, Rajpal, being the media secretary of the Punjab Congress. I have given the bust the respect it deserves and I will keep it with me forever,” he added.
But he shifted the bust into his factory today, citing “security reasons”. His brother, Rajpal, said a local police officer had advised that it be moved from outside the office to a place “where people can’t view it easily”.
Rajpal said the pressure was mounting to part with the bust. “Today, it is people claiming to represent political parties who have been visiting us. Tomorrow, art dealers will be flooding us with similar requests.”
Inquiries at the CPM office revealed that the central unit of the party would be sending “big names” to Mohali to coerce Prithpal into parting with the bust. “Comrade Harkishen Singh Surjeet is abroad and is expected back after a month. That leaves Jyoti Basu, Nayanar, Biman Bose and others like Sitaram Yechuri. All of them, including Surjeet, have been briefed about the bust,” a CPM leader revealed.
CPM sources said the local unit of the party is under “intense pressure” from senior leaders in New Delhi and Calcutta to purchase the bust or somehow get it out of Prithpal’s factory. “Stalin is still very dear to the party. There is no doubt that the bust is priceless for us. Mohali could become a pilgrimage for communists in the country in the future,” a senior CPM leader felt.
Oblivious to the consternation it has caused within the communist fraternity, Stalin’s bust continues to guard Prithpal’s office like a heavyweight durwan on the lookout for his actual employer.