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Tale of two assaults and two reactions

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Arnab Ganguly Published 06.01.15, 12:00 AM

Mamata being attacked in 1990

Calcutta, Jan. 5: A crushing blow 25 years ago had instantaneously brought out the tigress in Mamata Banerjee and lent her a national profile.

Yesterday's slap has yet to bring such dividends to Mamata's nephew who earned his aunt's admiration by apparently swearing revenge when he was aged only two but whose political instincts were found wanting when he was tested as an adult.

Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata's presumptive political heir and MP, chose to leave the venue within minutes of being slapped by a youth, allowing a mob to take matters into its own hands and brutalise the assailant.

Today, realisation that he has lost political capital appeared to dawn on Abhishek.

'At a personal level... let me forgive the perpetrator and wish him early recovery. Today is a new day, let us look ahead. I also urge my co-workers to maintain peace, harmony throughout the state and be restrained in their actions,' Abhishek posted on Facebook.

The good wishes were 24 hours too late. Had Abhishek shown similar sagacity yesterday, the barbaric treatment meted out to the youth could have been prevented and the young politician could have set an example for a politically polarised Bengal.

Abhishek's decision to leave the dais at East Midnapore's Chandipur within minutes of the attack was the talking point in Trinamul circles today.

'Why did he leave the dais? He should have stayed back and tried to restore normality. That is what leaders do and it would have given him an opportunity to prove that he shares some of his aunt's unmatched political instincts,' said a senior Trinamul leader close to both aunt and nephew.

Abhishek's indifferent response is being seized on by sections within the party that are unhappy with the way Mamata has anointed him as her presumptive political heir.

So far, the detractors have been picking on the thin attendance at rallies addressed by Abhishek in Delhi's Jantar Mantar or Calcutta's Shahid Minar and the absence of loud applause to insist that he has a long way to go.

But the very visible departure of Abhishek from the venue yesterday and his failure to take charge when chaos engulfed the dais have given the snipers something more solid than the tepidity of applause to revive their whisper campaign.

Some Trinamul leaders were quick to draw a parallel with the murderous attack on Mamata on August 16, 1990, by Lalu Alam, then a member of the CPM youth wing, in Hazra.

'She faced the blows from the lathi and bled from the head but stood her ground. That is what helped her establish herself as a leader who was different from others in the Congress - someone who was not afraid of the CPM,' a minister recalled today.

At least two slaps landed on Abhishek yesterday but his condition was nowhere near that of Mamata who had to be given 16 stitches 25 years ago.

Abhishek, now 27, was aged two in 1990 - a piece of statistics that has gained traction because Mamata herself highlighted it during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign. Mamata had claimed that Abhishek, then a toddler, had pledged to avenge the attack on her.

A quarter century later, a chance popped up before Abhishek yesterday to prove that he is a worthy inheritor.

'There may be criticism of Mamata on many matters, but there is little doubt that she has been a fighter from the very beginning and that has been her biggest political capital. Abhishek has only one capital till now - and that is Mamata,' said a Trinamul veteran.

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