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Surjeet-Karat spat? It’s fiction

New Delhi, June 3: None of this ever took place, you must first understand. Now read on.

It’s election time in 2004. A Sikh Marxist helps “Madam” cobble together a coalition to keep the Hindu nationalists out of power. But the aged Marxist general secretary has serious differences with his would-be successor, a hard-line communist whose wife is eyeing a politburo berth.

Surely Harkishen Singh Surjeet, before he stepped down as CPM general secretary, didn’t get a hard time from Prakash Karat?

Of course not: any resemblance to living people is merely coincidental, says Darshan Singh, author of the just-released Punjabi novel, Bhaau (Elder Brother).

Just as coincidental as the 80-year-old author’s allegedly long acquaintance with Surjeet, 92, who was discharged from hospital today after a long illness.

“It’s fiction,” Singh told The Telegraph. But aren’t the similarities with Surjeet, the Karats and Sonia too overwhelming? “It’s a work of fiction in Punjabi,” Darshan repeated before hanging up.

Rohit Jain, spokesman for Unistar Books Pvt Ltd, the Chandigarh-based publisher, said there was no English edition yet. “We released the book two weeks ago. The first edition has 500 copies — the standard number for most Punjabi books.”

Bhau describes the “fictional” events of 10 weeks in 2004 — starting just before a “fictional” election and ending with the appointment of a Prime Minister — as seen by the protagonist, Karam Singh Kirti.

Kirti, the Sikh Marxist, skilfully handles conflicting views in his party and regularly advises a “European lady”, referred to as “Madam”, who heads one of the election’s leading parties.

The book describes Kirti’s differences with the then shadow general secretary, “PR”. It’s clear that the author doesn’t have much love for PR or his ambitious wife. Nor does he hold any brief for this man Salve, from a sugar mill-dotted region of Maharashtra, who has the gall to question Madam’s Indianness.

And oh, another coincidence: Kirti’s party is stuffed with Bengalis and Malayalis.

The publishers said Singh worked in the Soviet embassy’s publications division several decades ago when he came into contact with Surjeet.

They apparently kept in touch, though the author wouldn’t give details. Bhau is his fifth novel; the plot of the fourth followed poet-novelist Amrita Pritam’s life rather closely.

Some CPM leaders said they had heard about the book but hadn’t read it since no English translation is available. Top party leaders were not available for comments. “I haven’t seen the book,” party MP Hannan Mollah said.

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