West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday gave a new twist to the controversy over the circulation last month of an e-mail containing a graphic of her and some Trinamool Congress leaders by a Jadavpur University professor, saying it was an attempt at “character assassination.”

Alleging that the professor's action was a “cyber crime,” she said it “wasn't a cartoon” and her picture in the graphic wasn't an original one, but a “decomposed photo,” meaning, perhaps, that it was morphed.

Ms. Banerjee, who was addressing a gathering of party leaders and supporters, said the graphic used the word “vanish,” which implied “murder.”

Chemistry professor Ambikesh Mahapatra circulated the e-mail, which borrowed the word “vanish” from a piece of dialogue in Satyajit Ray's celluloid masterpiece Sonar Kella.

“Being a teacher, just how can you send e-mails to people without their permission” Ms. Banerjee asked, claiming it was unbecoming of a teacher to do so.

The complaint to the police against him wasn't made by members of her party, but by residents of the housing complex where the professor lived, she said adding, “Since we are decent and tolerant, we don't target people who are opposed to us.”

The arrest of Mr. Mahapatra and his neighbour Subrata Sengupta on April 12 drew severe condemnation from a cross-section of the city's intellectuals and politicians, who described it as an attempt on the part of the government to stifle freedom of expression.

Certain Ministers defended the arrest, saying it was an act calculated to “demean” the leaders depicted in the graphic.

“Centre should keep its word”

Meanwhile, Ms. Banerjee reiterated her demand for Central assistance to help the West Bengal government overcome its ongoing fiscal crisis. She said the Centre “will have to keep its promise” in this regard.

Her remarks came only days after she had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, where she had sought a three-year moratorium on the payment of interest on loans taken by the previous Left Front governments in the State, as well as a restructuring of the debt burden. “If the Centre thinks it will not give anything, we will show more patience,” Ms. Banerjee told a meeting of Trinamool leaders and workers.

Ms. Banerjee, whose party is the second largest constituent in the United Progressive Alliance, said: “We are together. We aren't against the Centre. We are a friendly party. We expect cooperation and expect that they [the Congress at the Centre] will fulfil their commitments as promised….. I'm not talking of any threat, however.”

“Jump into the Ganges”

Criticising the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for spreading ‘canards' against the Trinamool-led government, Ms. Banerjee said the party was envious. “They [the CPI(M)] are feeling the heat of development. If they are unable to bear it then they should jump into the Ganges or take a bath in some pond,” she said.

“In 34 years, you did nothing for the State. Now our time has come. The people of the State gave you enough [opportunity],” she said.