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City morning walkers and MP spar over Modi

Calcutta, May 21: Narendra Modi may be a subject of heated discussion across the country and beyond but today it triggered a confrontation with disturbing overtones between morning walkers and a Trinamul MP in south Calcutta.

Kalyan Banerjee, the MP representing Serampore, has been accused of threatening and abusing a group of Hindi-speaking morning walkers who were discussing Modi by the Dhakuria lakes.

He was also accused of blaming them for the large number of votes the BJP had polled in Bengal but was chided by a group of onlookers that included Bengali-speakers, eyewitnesses said.

The MP has denied the allegations (full response in box). A former MLA said the chief minister had told him after she was alerted to the incident that “she had a special feeling for members of the Marwari community”.

According to eyewitnesses, the MP walked up to the group overhearing their conversation and a heated argument ensued. A crowd of over 200 gathered at the spot and the politician had to be rescued by police and escorted out, the eyewitnesses and police sources said.

The incident occurred around 7.15am near a memorial built to the victims of the Dhakuria AMRI tragedy.

Kalyan, Mamata Banerjee’s neighbour on Harish Chatterjee Street, had also gone to the lake for his morning walk.

According to those present during the altercation, the group consisted of around five elderly Hindi-speaking people, all regulars at Rabindra Sarovar, who were resting. Hearing them speak favourably of Modi, the Trinamul leader allegedly took a detour.

“He first rebuked the group and then started hurling abuses at them for voting for the BJP,” Ajay Agnihotri, 42, an advocate who is among the regulars at the Lake, told The Telegraph. He had reached the spot hearing the commotion.

An elderly walker, who said he was not at the spot when the exchange began and did not want to be named for fear of retribution, told this newspaper that the language he heard was “extremely offensive”. “I cannot repeat the words uttered by him as they are very derogatory and abusive,” he said over the phone.

The MP allegedly threatened the group with dire consequences for supporting the BJP. Soon, a large crowd of walkers gathered at the spot and opposed the MP’s outburst. “The protesters included Bengali-speaking people who felt offended by what the MP was saying,” said a morning walker who did not want to be named.

According to the eyewitnesses, Kalyan pushed one of the persons in the heat of the argument after which several angry walkers pushed him back about 25 metres.

The police sources said Lake police station received a call and a team was sent immediately.

Lake police station has started a case based on a complaint lodged by Kalyan’s guard who alleged that the MP was heckled and abused. “According to the complaint, Kalyan Banerjee, who was passing by a group of morning walkers, was assaulted by them unprovoked,” an officer said.

The altercation comes at a time the BJP has made inroads into several parts of Bengal. In Serampore, Kalyan won the Lok Sabha seat but his BJP rival Bappi Lahiri managed to get 2.87 lakh votes. In 2009, the BJP candidate had polled only 38,476 votes.

In Calcutta South, Trinamul’s Subrata Bakshi trailed his BJP rival Tathagata Roy by 185 votes in Bhowanipore, Mamata Banerjee’s Assembly constituency that has a large number of Hindi-speaking voters.

The BJP secured 16.8 per cent of the total vote share in Bengal, up from 6.14 per cent in 2009.

“One of our MPs was heckled by some people this morningÖ. This should not be done. We should respect each other in Bengal irrespective of caste, community and religion,” said urban development minister Firhad Hakim this afternoon.

Dinesh Bajaj, the former Trinamul MLA, said he got in touch with the chief minister immediately after he learnt of today’s incident.

“The chief minister told me categorically that she had a special feeling for members of the Marwari community, something she has iterated several times. Besides, she also said that the incident was wrongly reported and some people assaulted the party MP,” said Bajaj, who is also a member of the International Marwari Federation.

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