In the heart of Belonia town in Tripura’s extreme south, a statue of Communist icon Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, stood at the centre of College Square for the last five years. At 2.30 pm Monday, 48 hours after the assembly election results were announced, celebrating BJP workers and supporters brought it down with the help of a JCB amid cries of “Bharat Mata ki jai’’.
While the CPI(M), which lost power in the state after 25 years, described the incident as an example of “Communism phobia”, the BJP claimed that the statue was brought down by people “oppressed” by the Left.
“Eyewitnesses told me that after the statue fell, its head was dismembered from the body. And then, the BJP workers played football with Lenin’s head,’’ claimed Tapas Datta, CPI(M)’s Belonia sub-division secretary.
In South Tripura’s Belonia, a statue of Lenin razed amid chants of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. This, less than 48 hours after the BJP stormed to power ending a 25-year-long Left rule.
— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) March 5, 2018
South Tripura SP Ipper Monchak said the driver of the JCB, Ashish Pal, was arrested in the evening and let off on bail. “The statue remains where it has fallen. It will be removed by police tomorrow and given to the municipality for storage,” said Monchak.
According to CPI(M)’s Datta, the 11.5-ft fibre-glass statue was sculpted by local artist Krishna Debnath at a cost of Rs 3 lakh. It was installed as the party began its 21st year of rule, after winning the 2013 assembly elections.
BJP south district secretary Raju Nath, who has been blamed by the CPI(M) of having planned the incident, said the statute fell because of an “overflow of anger”.
“For years, there has been resentment against this statue of Lenin. It was built by the municipality and funded by the taxpayers’ money. Why should the taxpayer have to finance a statue of Lenin? Even if it was a statue of our former CPI(M) chief minister Nripen Chakraborty, nobody would have touched it — he was one of us and belonged to the country. But what does this foreigner Lenin have to do with our people?’’ said Nath.
CPI(M) state secretary Bijan Dhar alleged that the incident was the latest in a string of attacks targeting his party after the BJP-IPFT alliance came to power.
“Our party workers and supporters are being attacked physically, leaders are being threatened, our offices are being occupied, vandalised and set on fire… as are the homes of many of our workers. The bringing down of the statue is nothing but Communism phobia,’’ claimed Dhar.
Local CPI(M) leader Datta said the statue was the only one of Lenin among “some 15-20 across Belonia town installed over the past two decades to beautify the city”. “The others include statues of Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Vidyasagar and Kabi Nazrul,” he said.
Describing the events leading to the statue’s fall, BJP’s Nath s+aid, “We were carrying out a victory rally this afternoon. When we reached College Square, there was a bulldozer that was trying to make its way through the crowds. In the process, the driver lost control and hit the railing around the statue. When this happened, the supporters surrounded the driver and made him bring down the statue. This was not an unnatural feeling for these people who have been oppressed by the CPI(M) for so long.”
Nath denied charges that the JCB was hired by his party. “The houses near the statue belong to families opposed to the Left. Every week, the CPI(M) would hold gatherings and events near the statue and impose their ideology on these people. They’d had enough,” he said.
SP Monchak said the police station where the JCB driver was held “had been gheraoed” by a crowd seeking his release.
“We would have released Pal in any case as this was not a non-bailable offence. We believe the JCB had been hired expressly for this purpose but we cannot say who hired it. An inquiry is still on,’’ said Monchak.
Incidentally, one of the most prominent statues of Lenin in the country, at Esplanade in the heart of Kolkata, remains in place even though the Left was toppled from power after 34 years by Mamata Banerjee’s TMC in 2011.