Chandigarh: One day in 2004, at a house on Safdarjung Road in New Delhi’s Lutyens area, a venerable Sikh Marxist leader counsels a European lady who heads one of India’s largest parties on the coming general elections.
With a picture of Vladimir Lenin watching over proceedings, he tells her how to edge ahead of the ruling party that seems to be leading in the electoral race.
“Call the Dravidian party,” he says.
“Talk to the Maratha leader who questioned your Indianness....”
That incident, which could well be an encapsulation of events leading to the Congress’ surprise win in 2004, isn’t a non-fiction retelling of the same by someone involved in the victory.
Instead, it is from a Punjabi work of fiction titled Bhaau that hit the stands less than a fortnight ago.
Written by Darshan Singh, 80, who has known Harkishan Singh Surjeet—the ailing Communist Party of India (Marxist) stalwart whom many consider to be the architect of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s ride to power in 2004—for a long time, Bhaau, which means elder brother in Punjabi, is a unique work of literature in a country where inside stories in politics are rarely written out—even if only as works of fiction.
Insider’s view: Darshan Singh, author of Bhaau. (Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint)
It is also a book that is likely to kick up a storm within the CPM with its not-so-kind references to current CPM chief Prakash Karat and his wife Brinda.
The protagonist of Bhaau is Karam Singh Kirti and the book tells the story of how he manages the inherent contradictions within the communist movement and his own party to create a secular alternative to a Hindu nationalist party in the 2004 elections.
Darshan Singh refuses to admit that his work is a retelling of the life and times of Surjeet, who is 92. “It’s virtual reality,” is his cryptic remark. The blurb on the book talks of the protagonist as “an imaginary politician”.
The novel also talks about Kirti’s differences with the then shadow general secretary, PR, a hardline communist leader, who is all set to replace him.
It also speaks of how PR’s wife is all set to become a politburo member.
On Sunday, Singh, once employed by the local information department of the erstwhile Soviet Union, responded to questions posed to him at a literary meet as to why he had taken the trouble by giving fictional names to characters that could be easily identified by saying that many “novels have been written about American presidents without naming them.”
In the book, the European lady is simply called Madam and her Indianness is questioned by a man called Salve from Maharashtra who comes from a region where there are a lot of sugar mills (a reference to Sharad Pawar and Baramati).
There’s another character called Bal Gopal who, when it becomes clear he will lose his chief ministership, gets his wife to replace him (a reference to Lalu Prasad). And there’s Pehlwan, another chief minister who isn’t exactly Madam’s favourite person (Mulayam Singh Yadav).
The book covers 10 weeks in 2004 and is told in flashback by Kirti himself who is proud of the fact that despite being a school drop-out who has to take the help of some of his Bengali or Malayalee colleagues to write in English, ends up being a grand behind-the-scenes player at the highest level, anointing prime ministers at will.
“The novel is actually about the decline and decay of the young revolutionary who as a 15-year-old hoisted the Indian flag in Hoshiarpur and many years later ended up as a conniving politician in Delhi,” says literary critic Sushil Dosanjh.
Prem Singh, former editor of Punjabi daily Desh Sewak, who appears in the book under a different name, says that the “novel is more or less factual”. He denies that the novel is a chronicle of decline of the Left movement, and says that it reveals the “intricacies of national politics”.
Some family details of Surjeet—common knowledge in Punjab—are also thrown in. Like Surjeet’s sons, one of Kirti’s sons maintains a small farm of 8 acres in his ancestral village while the other runs a restaurant (or dhaba as Kirti terms it) in the UK.
The book, published by Unistar Books Pvt. Ltd, hasn’t been translated into English yet and most people do not even seem to know that it is out.
Surjeet’s family could not be reached for comment.
The secretary of the Punjab unit of CPM, who, too, appears in the book under a different name, said the party did not have any comment to offer. “We cannot comment without reading the novel,” said Balwant Singh.
Meanwhile, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee secretary Rajpal Singh also said he was not aware of the contents of the novel, and hence could not offer any comments.