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Sikdar returns to battlefield

Calcutta, May 7: BJP central observer Devdas Apte arrived here this morning on a mission to assess the situation arising out of Monday’s attack on Union minister Tapan Sikdar to find that the senior party leader had left for his Kurukshetra, Khamarpara in Barasat.

Sikdar, who left straight from the nursing home in Lake Town around 8 this morning, joined a cavalcade of around 10 cars and motorcycles at Barasat and drove into Khamarpara, where he was allegedly assaulted by CPM supporters on his earlier visit.

This time, he was met by a huge crowd and a large police force on its toes. As he addressed the mammoth rally amid tight security, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee rang up twice to find out if he was happy with the police deployment. Nearly 200 police personnel cordoned off the area until Sikdar left.

The Union minister for cottage and small-scale industries made few references to the attack on him, but railed against the reign of terror and demanded that a police camp be set up to ward off untoward incidents during the panchayat polls. He would take up the issue with the Prime Minister when he leaves for Delhi tomorrow, he said.

In Calcutta, Apte said he had spoken to Sikdar several times during the day to record his views. “The situation is alarming in Bengal in the run-up to the panchayat elections and demands immediate Central intervention,” he said.

The Rajya Sabha MP, on a day’s visit as BJP president Venkaiah Naidu’s emissary, said he would see to it that the Union home ministry sends a team to probe the incident.

Apte will raise the issue again in the Rajya Sabha tomorrow. “The way the ruling CPM in Bengal has unleashed terror on the Opposition parties as well as Left Front leaders has to be highlighted in our country-wide campaign against the Marxists,” he said.

He admitted, in an interview with The Telegraph, that he was “hurt” by the growing squabbles within the party’s Bengal unit. “I must admit that the strained relations between Sikdar and state unit president Tathagatha Roy is taking its toll on the party’s beleaguered organisation,” he said.

He felt Roy, despite his preoccupation with campaigning for the panchayat polls in the districts, should have spoken to the injured Sikdar. “I conveyed my displeasure to Roy when he phoned me from a remote village in North 24-Parganas. Tapanda is a senior leader in the party and the injuries he had received caused concern,” Apte said.

“If Bhattacharjee seems concerned about the attack on Tapanda, Roy as party president should have reacted first, condemning the attack,” he is said to have told party leaders.

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