'Punch, slap and kick' for veteran

Jan. 6: CPM veteran and former minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah is in hospital with wounds that needed stitches after he was allegedly "slapped, punched, kicked and thrown to the ground" by suspected Trinamul workers led by a former MLA once accused of harassing a teacher.

The driver of Mollah, the former land and land reforms minister and one of the few CPM leaders to survive the Trinamul landslide in the Assembly polls, said Arabul Islam, a former MLA of the ruling party, led the mob near Bhangar in South 24-Parganas.

Mollah, an MLA from Canning (East) that falls in South 24-Parganas, was on his way to a CPM local committee office that was set on fire last night and minutes away from his destination when the alleged assault took place.

Rarely has a former minister in Bengal been battered in the vicious manner recounted by the driver, Amar Ghosh, who has been with Mollah for long but is not known to be directly associated with the CPM.

The alleged assault comes close on the heels of an unparalleled brawl in the Assembly and is being seen as a reflection of the intense faction fights within the ruling party to assert control over pockets with multiple power centres.

Arabul was at the centre of a controversy in April last year after he allegedly hurled abuses at a teacher of Bhangar College. The teacher was injured when the tantrum-throwing politician's hand hit a jug and sent it crashing into her face.

The Trinamul Congress and senior ministers had then launched a concerted attack on the teacher, creating an impression that strongmen like Arabul had the party's blessings. The rise of a rebel leader, who played a key role in ensuring Arabul's defeat in the Assembly polls, is said to be the immediate reason that forced the Arabul camp to flex its muscles to proclaim its supremacy. ( )

However, the heavy hand has fallen on an ironic target as the 67-year-old Mollah's views on land acquisition and industry have often embarrassed the CPM and appeared to be more in tune with that of Mamata Banerjee. That Mollah is a leader from the minority community is also expected to add to the discomfort of the Trinamul leadership.

The attackers did not appear to have either the inclination or the time to keep such perspectives in mind, reportedly rushing in from a public meeting across the road and pouncing on the senior citizen. Someone smashed the windscreen of Mollah's vehicle with a brick.

Driver Ghosh said: "Arabul was leading them. They pounced on the MLA and started beating him up. They beat Rezzak saheb for about 10 minutes. All this while, some Trinamul workers prevented me and the MLA's bodyguard, Prabir Dutta, from getting down from the jeep," said Ghosh.

Kanti Ganguly, a former CPM minister who visited Mollah in the hospital, quoted the injured MLA as saying: "Arabul hit me in my face with his fist. The others threw me to the ground and kicked, slapped and punched me."

Ghosh said the assault unfolded in front of a team of policemen who remained spectators.

"About three or four policemen were at the spot but they initially did nothing to save Rezzak saheb. The MLA was punched in the face, slapped, kicked and thrown to the ground. After the MLA was beaten up for about 10 minutes, some villagers and the policemen came to his rescue. They bundled Rezzak saheb into the jeep and I managed to drive him to the hospital," Ghosh said.

But the police said their personnel rescued Mollah. "A scuffle ensued between Mollah and Trinamul workers. The MLA was injured," said K.P. Barui, the additional superintendent of police (east).

Around 1.45pm, Mollah was admitted to the RN Tagore International Institute for Cardiac Sciences, off EM Bypass.

Doctors said the condition of Mollah, who suffered a cut on the inner side of the upper lip, was stable. "The cut was caused by a blow. He received two stitches," said Sanjay Kumar Dube, a general surgeon.

Dube said tests did not reveal internal injuries. Another doctor said Mollah was not discharged today, taking into account "a request from family members", his age and conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

Mollah's driver has lodged an FIR with Calcutta Leather Complex police station against Arabul and eight other Trinamul workers.

Arabul confirmed he was present when an incident took place but denied that he had taken part in the confrontation.

"I was delivering a speech at the meeting called to protest the ransacking of a nearby party office by the CPM on Friday. We saw Rezzak Mollah and our party workers rushed towards him. But I did not go as I was in the middle of my speech," Arabul said.

State urban development minister Firhad Hakim said Mollah was engaged "in a scuffle with Trinamul activists and some outsiders" when he visited a place where Trinamul was holding a meeting.

"Mollah was not seriously injured. He was just enacting a drama by getting himself admitted to a private hospital to draw people's attention to his injuries," Hakim said.

Opposition leader Surjya Kanta Mishra demanded the arrest of "Arabul and his associates" within 48 hours, failing which, he said, the CPM would hold dharnas in front of the office of the district superintendent of police and the district magistrate's office (both in Alipore) from Tuesday.

The additional SP said nine persons had been arrested for a clash that broke out between the police and "a mob" after Mollah left. He did not specify if anyone had been held for the alleged assault on the MLA.

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