May 6: A day after the attack on Union minister Tapan Sikdar by CPM supporters, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee went into an overdrive to deflate criticism.
He phoned deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, also overseeing home, and narrated the circumstances that led to the assault and expressed regret.
Advani said in Delhi: “I expressed my distress and unhappiness to the chief minister. I have asked him to ensure that such incidents do not recur.”
Free and fair elections have taken place even in states with problems of terrorism, he told Bhattacharjee in an obvious reference to Kashmir.
Advani’s aides, however, described the conversation with Bhattacharjee as “friendly”. “He made his point without mincing words but the chief minister’s response was also satisfactory. He said he was himself unhappy about what had happened and promised to take action and bring the culprits to heel,” an aide said.
Bhattacharjee informed the party that he told Advani: “Please do not think we are not sensitive to the situation. We have arrested the accused named in the FIR. I have remained in touch with Sikdar.”
The chief minister called Sikdar and read the riot act to the police bosses of North 24-Parganas district where the attack took place.
From his bed in a private clinic in Lake Town, Sikdar praised Bhattacharjee’s and the CPM state leadership’s post-attack response as well as their efforts at fixing responsibility for the incident.
“I am extremely happy at Buddhababu’s expression of concern and the way he has gone about ordering stern measures against the culprits,” Sikdar said.
“I have collected the names of a few attackers which I shall pass on to him and (state CPM secretary) Anil Biswas. I have no doubt that they will take proper action. The attack on me was instigated by a few local comrades.”
Sikdar conveyed the same sentiments to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he called from Delhi to enquire after his health. Sikdar will be released from the clinic tomorrow.
Sources said the chief minister was “very critical” of the North 24-Parganas superintendent of police, Basudeb Bag, for failing to protect a Union minister.
“There was prior information with the SP about Sikdar’s movement in the area but police arrangements were inadequate. The assault on Sikdar has caused embarrassment to the government,” said an official.
In Delhi, CPM members of Parliament were privately incensed at the attack.
“It was a stupid thing to do. Nobody had noticed Sikdar or what he was doing, this incident has given him unnecessary mileage,” Nilotpal Basu said. BJP members kicked up a storm in Parliament over the incident.