| BREAK POINT: A windowpane smashed at Jyotirmoyee Sikdar’s Salt Lake residence by neighbours protesting her husband Avtar Singh’s illegal activities. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
The message from the top was simple — stop Avtar Singh while there is still time. But the message, say party insiders, came too late — the time to rein in Avtar had long passed.
Having delivered the message twice during the run-up to Poll 2004, a senior CPM leader entrusted with the task thought he had succeeded in arresting the Avtar problem.
The recipients of the message — ‘patron’ transport minister Subhas Chakraborty last September and wife Jyotirmoyee Sikdar this May — CPM insiders said were “quiet” as they heard out the party mandarins’ word of caution about Avtar, at the CPM’s Alimuddin Street headquarters.
“I did not give him the licence for the bar (Buddha Bar),” Chakraborty is believed to have told the party leadership then.
“At times, Avtar does not listen to us,” Jyotirmoyee reportedly complained.
Now, a tale of avarice is emerging from the Avtar Singh crime files. “We thought we were trying to help a down-to-earth fellow,” said Rachpal Singh, a retired IPS officer and one of Avtar’s early mentors. “But when we got to know him better, his greed shocked us.”
Avtar, the athlete from Hoshiarpur who emerged in Calcutta in 1995 by the side of fiancee Jyotirmoyee, slipped into the sports minister’s charmed circle following his wife’s Asian Games glory.
Soon after, he began to place his list of demands and get them passed. When minister Chakraborty read Avtar’s game plan, he distanced himself from the athlete-turned-businessman.
Avtar then promptly teamed up with the ‘rival’ Amitava Nandy camp of the local CPM. He reportedly used the Nandy camp to acquire the Nayapatti plot, fill up a waterbody and construct the Merlin Park hotel-cum-bar.
“We are not concerned with Avtar,” said state CPM secretary Anil Biswas. “The party is committed to Jyotirmoyee, who is our MP and a member. But we will not hesitate to take action against her if she is found to be in the wrong.”
Party functionaries in North 24-Parganas, however, said reports critical of Avtar and even Jyotirmoyee had gone from the local unit as well as residents to the leadership long ago, but no action was taken against the couple.
The proposed party inquiry into the Avtar sleaze story will seek to ascertain the role played by a section of district leaders who would frequent Merlin Park. At least three influential district CPM leaders were known for their proximity to Avtar.