Mamata bid to placate Sobhandeb

Mamata Banerjee on Thursday tried to placate labour leader Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, whose assault by a section of Trinamul Congress workers could lead to widespread protests from within the party's trade union wing.

A "hurt" Chattopadhyay had gone public on Wednesday against state Inttuc president Dola Sen and her supporters for roughing him up on the Calcutta University campus on Tuesday. He had also lodged a complaint against eight people with Jorasanko police station, none of whom was arrested till late on Thursday.

During the day, Mamata first asked urban development minister Firhad Hakim and then Trinamul national general secretary Mukul Roy ' who along with Sen leads the faction behind the assault ' to talk to Chattopadhyay.

"Neither Hakim nor Roy was able to placate Chattopadhyay. As a last resort, Mamatadi engaged Chattopadhyay's old associate and state panchayat minister, Subrata Mukherjee, to talk to him," said a Trinamul general secretary close to Mamata.

Mukherjee said after a 35-minute session at his New Secretariat chamber with Chattopadhyay: "I had a very fruitful discussion with Sobhandeb over a cup of tea. After all, we are old friends."

Chattopadhyay said he had told Mukherjee that his "physical assault was secondary, compared to the mental agony I had to suffer at the hands of the member of a rival Inttuc faction". "I made my intent clear to Subrata and I hope that action would be taken against those involved in my assault," he said after the afternoon meeting.

Mukherjee added: "The attack on a veteran leader like Sobhandeb is very unfortunate. But he asked me to settle the matter in the party forum." The minister said he would write to Mamata about the outcome of the meeting. Chattopadhyay said on Thursday that he would not like to drag Mamata's name into the matter. "No, I would never mention the chief minister in such terms," he said. The labour leader, however, also made it clear that he would not approach Mamata on his own. "I know I am right in my standpoint. I shall meet Mamata if she calls me," he said.

On Wednesday, Chattopadhyay had told a private TV channel that he was "very hurt" that "even Mamata" had equated him with Sen. He had said that this had hurt him more than the attack on him at Calcutta University by his party colleagues.

Some members of the Trinamul union in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation staged a demonstration in the civic headquarters on Thursday demanding action against those behind Tuesday's attack. Chattopadhyay enjoys the support of large groups of employees in the CMDA, New Secretariat and Writers' Buildings.

Unlike in the case of dissident minister Rabindranath Bhattacharya, who has been criticised by newly appointed junior agriculture minister Becharam Manna for airing his grievances in public, the Trinamul leadership has been guarded while talking about Chattopadhyay.

"Sobhandebda is a great leader and we are sure that he would settle the matter in the party forum," Roy said at Behrampore circuit house in Murshidabad on Thursday.

Speaker Biman Banerjee, who met Chattopadhyay at the MLA hostel, also condemned the attack. "Chattopadhyay is also the chief government whip in the Assembly and the attack on him is most unfortunate," said Banerjee.

Governor M.K. Narayanan slammed campus violence at the convocation of Burdwan University on Thursday. "The behaviour of students in quite a few colleges in the state is not up to expectation. Some even commit the cardinal sin of manhandling teachers and principals. Nothing can demean a college or university more than such behaviour. It is therefore obvious that in many institutions discipline is relaxed. Professors and teachers are unable or unwilling to control the troublemakers," said the governor.