Calcutta, Feb. 6: The Rajya Sabha elections in Bengal have been sucked into an unfamiliar cloak-and-dagger terrain with the Left and the Congress alleging attempts by the Trinamul Congress to ensure cross-voting by some Opposition MLAs.
Allegations of “missing MLAs”, horse-trading and protected shelters hung over the political firmament on the night before the elections in the Assembly on Friday.
Such allegations are not common in Bengal, though many other parts of the country are no stranger to the charges.
Sources claimed that Trinamul was confident of the votes of at least three Left Front MLAs who were not seen in public today and efforts were on to persuade two Congress legislators. Late tonight, the sources said the additional Congress votes had not been committed beyond doubt, pointing out that anything could happen before the vote.
This is the third time that parties are sending representatives to the Rajya Sabha after the Trinamul government came to power. On the last two occasions, there was no contest as the number of vacancies was equal to the number of candidates.
But this time there is a contest as six candidates are in the fray for five slots. The fight will be between Trinamul’s fourth candidate and A.S. Malihabadi, an Independent supported by both the Congress and the Left.
“We shall get our fourth candidate elected, come what may,” Trinamul all India general secretary Mukul Roy told The Telegraph hours before the polls.
Trinamul secretary general Partha Chatterjee denied all the allegations levelled by the Opposition.
Given the poll arithmetic, Trinamul’s fourth candidate can win only if there is cross-voting by some Opposition legislators or some of them stay away from the election.
Unlike legislative matters, cross-voting cannot be prevented by issuing a whip. The Election Commission of India had clarified this on July 10, 2012.
“There is no whip on the MLAs who exercise their franchise to vote for a Rajya Sabha nominee because it is a part of an electoral process,” said former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee.
But the cross-voters can be identified as the Rajya Sabha election is not conducted through secret ballot. The legislators are usually asked to show the ballot paper to the party’s polling agent before dropping it into the box.
“The polling agent cannot do anything at that point but the party can take action later,” said Chatterjee.
Several Opposition leaders claimed that Trinamul was using this flexibility in the system to ensure the victory of its fourth candidate.
CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb said three Left MLAs — Bijoy Bagdi (from Birbhum) and Dhirendra Mahato of the Forward Bloc and Sushanta Besra of the CPM, both from Purulia — were approached and asked to vote for Trinamul’s fourth candidate but they rejected the overtures.
Deb said the party had already written to the Election Commission of India highlighting the “malpractice”.
Manoj Bhattacharya, former MP and a secretariat member of Left ally RSP, said: “Look what the ruling party is doing to ensure the victory of one of its candidates. The politics of Bengal has hit a nadir.Ö We have not seen anything like this in the past.”
The trigger behind the Left outcry was the absence of three other MLAs in the Assembly in the morning. Anantadeb Adhikari and Dasharath Tirkey of the RSP, both from Jalpaiguri, and Sunil Mondal, a Bloc MLA from Burdwan, did not turn up in the House complex where the Left constituents had separate meetings with their legislators.
The concern deepened in the evening when the three MLAs skipped a Left Front meeting that all the alliance legislators were scheduled to attend to firm up the strategy for tomorrow’s polls.
Some Left leaders had filed a missing person complaint about Adhikari, the RSP legislator, earlier in the day. But by evening, several Left leaders had started talking about the possibility of cross-voting.
“It is really embarrassing for Left parties that legislators are deserting for gains,” said the RSP’s Bhattacharya, who added that his efforts to reach the two party MLAs had drawn a blank.
The Congress camp was shaken as two of their MLAs — Abu Naser Khan Chowdhury and Sushil Roy, both from Malda — kept the party on tenterhooks.
“I called on the chief minister at Nabanna today and spoke to Mukul Roy. I am leaving the Congress and what happens next will be clear tomorrow,” Chowdhury told The Telegraph earlier in the day.
Sushil Roy said he was leaving the Congress as the district leadership had left him frustrated. But neither of them spelt out clearly that they would vote for Trinamul.
“Trinamul shamelessly tried to woo our two MLAs from Malda on the eve of tomorrow’s Rajya Sabha polls. But they assured me that they would neither leave the party nor vote for Trinamul’s nominee when I spoke to them during the day,” claimed state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya.