Kolkata: Days after top party leaders heaped praise on him for his "fighting ability", Trinamool strongman and former legislator Arabul Islam was arrested for allegedly attacking veteran CPI-M leader Abdur Rezzak Mollah.
This has taken political circles in West Bengal by surprise.
Trinamool ministers, who had earlier backed Arabul despite the criticism in the media and by civil society following the attack on former state minister Mollah, were restrained in their reactions. But they lost no time in describing the development as an example of the impartiality of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
"Banerjee has only followed "Rajdharma" by getting Arabul arrested," said transport and sports minister Madan Mitra, who had earlier announced that the party was with Arabul, a former state lawmaker from Bhangar in South 24 Parganas.
Industries minister Partha Chatterjee, who had lauded Arabul as an "energetic boy" after the Jan 6 violence that left Mollah in hospital with multiple injuries, said "The law will take its own course".
The opposition Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M), which had hit the streets in a big way across the state demanding punishment for those who severely beat up Mollah, seemed a trifle on the backfoot. But party leaders dubbed the move as "belated" and only "the first step" in bringing the guilty to book.
CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat, who called on Mollah at the hospital Thursday, demanded that the law should take its course.
"We have been demanding for nearly two weeks that those responsible for the attack on Mollah should be arrested. This (Arabul's arrest) is only the first step, a beginning," he said.
"We want the law to take its full course. Justice should be done. We will see if it (the arrest) is being followed up," he said.
Ex CPI-M MP Sujon Chakraborty, now secretary of the party's South 24 Parganas district, said: "If Arabul is released after two-three days, then we have to say this is only an eyewash," he said.
Mollah was severely beaten up allegedly by Trinamool workers led by Arabul when he went to Bamanghata area under Bhangar where a CPI-M office had been damaged.
The disturbances stretched to Jan 8 when a number of political activists were injured in firing and clashes between the Trinamool and CPI-M.
Arabul was picked up by the police Jan 17, quite a distance from his base in Bhangar. Cases were slapped on him under 11 sections of the Indian Penal Code, five of which were non-bailable. The charges included attempt to murder.
A sub-divisional court later remanded him to police custody for five days, but on Friday night Arabul complained of chest pain and was admitted to hospital.
But the question doing the rounds in political discussions is why Mamata Banerjee, who herself holds the police portfolio, gave the go-ahead for the police action against Arabul, especially since this is not the first time that he has courted controversy. Also, for years, the CPI-M has been accusing him of resorting to violence against its cadres.
Last April, Arabul was accused of flinging a water-filled jug at a woman professor of Bhangar College after an altercation, and he had to seek bail.
But the party leadership stood by him, and panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee held a media meet at the state secretariat attempting to show the professor in poor light.
Political circles believe that the Trinamool government decided to arrest Arabul this time to take the wind out of the sails of the CPI-M, which was trying to recover lost ground by campaigning big on the attack on Mollah.
Also, in the aftermath of the clashes, state governor M.N. Narayanan had virtually rapped the government, saying ""This is not a good political culture. I think some sort of goondaism is going on here."
Besides, Mollah is one of the seniormost MLAs in the state, who has won every election since 1971, and one who proudly calls himself a "Chashir beta" (son of a farmer). Despite being the land and land reforms minister during the Left Front government, he time and again opposed Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's policy of acquiring agricultural land for big industries. He has even criticised the party leadership time and again over the past couple of years.
Naturally, the attack on such a grassroot level leader did not go down well with the people, and a section of the media and the civil society have been tearing the reputation of the Mamata Banerjee administration to shreds with scathing remarks over the violence.