| Taslima on Friday. (PTI)
Nov. 24: The CPM today said Taslima Nasreen was “free to come back to Calcutta”, though it stopped short of throwing open the doors fully, indicating that a face-saver hunt was on and the BJP’s gleeful drive to milk the controversy had begun to bite.
The CPM’s comment capped a day of manoeuvres that saw a Congress veteran and a Left leader liaising with each other to bail the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government out of the public relations nightmare.
Pressure mounted on the CPM with Taslima saying on TV she wanted to return. “All I want to say is that I miss my home, I miss my Kolkata. I want to go back. I’m confident I’ll be home soon.”
Speculation was rife tonight that Taslima, the guest of the Rajasthan government in Delhi at least till late this evening, could be sent back to Calcutta if and when the negotiators managed to turn a reluctant Bengal government around.
“Taslima Nasreen is free to come back. But if her presence here creates law-and-order problems, we have to rethink,” CPM district secretariat member Benoy Konar said in Calcutta.
Konar’s statement suggests the party has now come round to the view that the Taslima episode has not been handled properly. However, by adding that a “rethink” could take place, he seems to be indicating the party is also cautious about how far it can go in undoing the damage by clearly stating that the doors are open for her, no strings attached.
Bengal home secretary Prasad Ranjan Ray also said Taslima could return if she wanted and the government would provide security. But chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb ducked the question, saying: “The chief minister is not in town. Let him come back. At this moment, I would not comment.”
Sources in Delhi said they were confused by such “conflicting signals” but efforts were on to control the damage. However, careful not to let the BJP walk away with all the brownie points, the Congress took a swipe at the Left, saying Taslima was “shunted out of Bengal”.
So acute was the embarrassment of the CPM at the BJP exploiting the controversy that a key Left player on the joint panel on the nuclear deal and a Congress member consulted each other today. The Left leader then contacted his colleagues in Bengal. Based on his feedback to the Congress leader, the sources said this evening the “signals were still conflicting”.
“The nuclear deal bachao committee has become a Buddha bachao committee,” a source said.
The Centre has virtually taken control of Taslima, though she is still in the Rajasthan guesthouse in the capital. The Delhi Armed Police, which reports to the Union government, has taken charge of security.
Taslima is expected to be shifted to another location from the guesthouse once the Union home ministry takes a decision. It could be as early as tomorrow.
The BJP, not keen to associate itself with Taslima for too long and risk strife in states where it is in power, is making good use of the time to torment the CPM.
Playing to perfection the Left-gifted role of saviour of a lady in distress, the BJP alleged the “pseudo-secular” Bengal government had planned to get rid of Taslima even before the November 21 street rampage.
“On November 15, minority leaders asked the (Bengal) government to remove her and on November 20, deputy commissioner Vineet Goyal met her and asked her to pack her bags,” a BJP leader said in Delhi.
“We have learnt the Bengal government was threatening her to leave since August (after the attack on her at a Hyderabad book release). Top police officers would call on her to ask why she was not going to countries like Thailand or elsewhere.”
In Calcutta, Goyal, who had admitted speaking to Taslima on November 22, said he did not meet her on November 20. Former police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee, who met her in August, too, denied advising her to go to Thailand or anywhere else.
The first hint that the BJP was planning an offensive had come yesterday when the Vasundhara Raje government in Rajasthan issued a strong statement against the Bengal government, accusing it of refusing to let the Bangladeshi author return.
Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria today said the statement “was deliberately worded to show that the Left government, which prides itself on being secular, became edgy on such a small issue and literally dumped the author in Rajasthan”. Sources said home secretary V.S. Singh drafted the release which was made public without any change.
In Bengal, officials kept denying all the allegations.