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Independents won’t be a factor: Pranab

Calcutta, April 11: Pranab Mukherjee today said Independents “would not be a factor” in the Assembly elections, a day after Mamata Banerjee urged the people against voting for such candidates. Mukherjee also said those Congress leaders who were backing Independents “would not be spared”.

“The Independents will lose their security deposits. They won’t be a factor this time because people will only vote for the Congress-Trinamul Congress alliance,” the Union finance minister said at a programme in Calcutta’s Press Club this afternoon.

Asked if the Independents would play spoilsport and hurt the alliance candidates’ poll prospects, Mukherjee said the people were “convinced” that only the combine could “dislodge the Left Front from power”.

During a string of public rallies in Malda and North Dinajpur yesterday, the Trinmul Congress chief had requested the people not to vote for the Independents and said: “If you want change, please vote for the official alliance candidates. Vote for Trinamul and its allies…When political parties are in the fray, why vote for the Independents?”

Mukherjee today warned state Congress leaders who are backing Independents. “I will not name any individual. But those backing Independents will not be spared,” he said.

Behrampore MP Adhir Chowdhury and Raiganj MP Deepa Das Munshi had been openly backing Independents but yesterday, the two leaders “promised” Shakeel Ahmed, the AICC leader in charge of Bengal, that they would not support dissidents.

Asked why Chowdhury and Deepa had refused to toe the party line earlier, an irritated Mukherjee said: “Why don’t you ask them?”

Mukherjee had earlier threatened to suspend from the party for six years those Congress MLAs who were contesting as Independents.

Chowdhury today said he would attend the Union finance minister’s twin rallies in the district’s Saktipur and Jiaganj tomorrow.

“I will share the stage with Pranabda,” he said. Mukherjee’s rallies are being held to garner support for the Congress candidates in the two constituencies.

Chowdhury had earlier been backing Independents in Sagardighi, Hariharpara, Jalangi and Bhagabangola and had even campaigned for two of them last week.

On Deepa, Ahmed said she was “no longer backing Independents”. The Raiganj MP was, however, not available for comment as she was “busy” campaigning in a remote area in North Dinajpur.

At the Press Club programme, some reporters asked Mukherjee why the Congress had tied up with Trinamul despite the party’s alleged links with Maoists. “Trinamul leaders have told me that they do not have any links with Maoists,” the minister said.

He said the Congress-Trinamul alliance had a “strong chance of defeating the Left”. He cited as an example the combine’s success in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and “some by-elections”.

Mukherjee praised Mamata’s performance as railway minister. “She is doing well. If she becomes chief minister, she will be able to run the state well too.”

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