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Bhagat caught in turban tussle

New Delhi, Nov. 18: Sikh turban or British hat — two MPs have been squabbling over the type of headgear Bhagat Singh should sport.

A bronze statue of the freedom fighter is due to be installed in Parliament —never mind if 60 years have gone by since Independence — but it has got caught in a tug of war between Congress MP M.S. Gill and the CPM’s Mohammad Salim.

Both are eager to “donate” the statue, but while Punjab’s Gill wants to immortalise him as a “Sikh martyr” in a turban, Bengal’s Salim prefers a hat that does not have any “religious overtones”.

“There is a sudden attempt to appropriate Bhagat Singh. If the statue was of Subhas Chandra Bose, would we ask whether he should be in uniform or not'” Gill fumed.

“I thought I had been given the go-ahead for the statue. I don’t like this delay,” the MP added.

Salim, however, insists there should be no religious ring to the statue.

“He is a youth icon and it has nothing to do with religion,” the MP said.

“Nobody should make this a controversial issue.”

But Gill does not agree. “He was in disguise (in a British hat). People should see what kind of family he comes from. Now we are being told what he should look like.”

This is the first time there is one donor too many for the statue and probably the first time, too, that the parliamentary committee on installation of statues and portraits is in such a spot.

“In the past, there have been many who have enthusiastically suggested they will donate a statue for the leader, but then did not respond to repeated letters sent out by various committees,” an official said.

Historians have, however, chosen not to take sides in the dispute, saying there were pictures of Bhagat Singh in a hat as well as in a turban.

“It (the headgear) should not be decided on sectarian or political lines, but based on how people remember Bhagat Singh,” historian Mridula Mukherjee said.

“The issue needs to be debated.”

There is also disagreement over the finances for the statue.

Gill has produced a letter from the Punjab government offering to fund it, but Salim is not pleased about this.

“The Punjab government can do what it wants in Punjab,” said Salim, who has mobilised students countrywide to contribute for the statue.

Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has apparently taken “special interest” in the issue.

Sources in the parliamentary committee said a consensus would be worked out.

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