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Petals follow punch parade

Calcutta, Jan. 7: Brickbats through the day and bouquets in the evening.

Senior minister Partha Chatterjee called on CPM veteran Abdur Rezzak Mollah at a city hospital, capping a day marked by repeated swipes by other Trinamul leaders at the former minister who is recovering from an assault yesterday.

The main accused, former Trinamul MLA Arabul Islam, addressed a party meeting today and charged Mollah with indulging in “theatrics” — picking up the thread left off by minister Firhad Hakim who had used the word “drama” yesterday.

Another minister, Purnendu Bose, also pinned the blame on Mollah today as the ruling party continued to steer clear of condemning the assault.

Against such a backdrop, the arrival of minister Chatterjee with a bouquet to the hospital stood out as a time-tested episode of “good cop, bad cop”.

Sources said the minister was persuaded by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is nursing a cold and fever, to undertake the courtesy call. The chief minister was apparently alarmed by suggestions that a senior minority leader had been attacked — a point rubbed in by Trinamul rebel MP Kabir Suman who stressed that Mollah is a Haji (a person who has undertaken the Haj pilgrimage).

“Arabul ke thekan (Keep Arabul at bay),” Mollah was quoted as telling Chatterjee when the minister stepped into his room at the RN Tagore International Institute for Cardiac Sciences, off EM Bypass, around 6pm.

Mollah’s son Akhtar Hossain and CPM South 24-Parganas district secretariat member Ratan Bagchi accompanied the minister.

“Parthababu asked him how he was and why he had gone to Kantatala. Rezzakda could not speak, so I explained what had happened on Sunday. Rezzakda could only say ‘Arabul ke thekan’,” Bagchi said later.

Till this evening, Trinamul had not shown any signs of keeping Arabul at bay.

“He (Mollah) is indulging in theatrics. He does not follow any rules,” Arabul, whose name figures in the FIR related to the attack on the CPM leader, today told a Trinamul meeting at Ghatakpukur, around 10km from the assault spot in South 24-Parganas.

The meeting was attended by Shakti Mondal, Trinamul’s South 24-Parganas district vice-chairman. A local Trinamul Congress leader lodged a complaint against Mollah at Calcutta Leather Complex police station for allegedly instigating people and rioting.

Earlier in the day, state labour minister Purnendu Bose had said: “He (Mollah) is an elderly person. Why did he go to a place where a meeting of another party was going on? He is to blame for what happened.”

The chorus — and the reluctance to invoke the much-abused option called arrest — did little to dispel the impression that the leadership was standing by Arabul.

Sources said Trinamul felt that it could not afford to antagonise Arabul before the panchayat elections, expected in a few months. “There is no denying that Rezzak Mollah is still a force to reckon with in the area. We need the presence of a strong leader like Arabul to contain the CPM forces,” said a senior Trinamul leader.

But dissident Suman’s focus on a minority leader being assaulted compelled the party into a damage-control bid at appearing considerate towards a senior citizen.

Chatterjee spent a few minutes with Mollah and spoke to the doctors treating the CPM MLA and former minister. “Chatterjee gave the bouquet to Mollah and asked how he was,” said a source.

“Please ensure that he gets all the required care,” the source quoted Chatterjee as telling the doctors.

“Sir, there are too many visitors coming throughout the day,” a doctor told Chatterjee who left the room soon.

The minister said later: “I have spoken to the doctor. I will tell the chief minister what they have told me.”

He declined comment on minister Hakim’s remark that Mollah had staged a “drama”.

Asked if he differed with Hakim on Mollah’s illness, minister Subrata Mukherjee said: “I don’t know what Bobby (Hakim’s nickname) said yesterday about Mollah getting hospitalised.”

Governor on attack

In response to a question, governor M.K. Narayanan said on the sidelines of a meeting: “We don’t subscribe to any attack on anyone, including politicians.”