Ritabrata at the Assembly. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Calcutta, Feb. 7: The Left today suffered the ignominy of witnessing three of its MLAs vote for a Trinamul nominee in the Rajya Sabha elections, raising questions on the future of the coalition in the face of alleged poaching by the ruling party.
The RSP’s Dasrath Tirkey and Ananta Deb Adhikari, both from Jalpaiguri, and the Forward Bloc’s Sunil Kumar Mondal, from Burdwan’s Galsi, voted for Ahmed Hassan and ensured that he sailed through.
None of the CPM MLAs fell prey to alleged Trinamul overtures but the party couldn’t avoid the embarrassment of partners voting for an arch-rival.
“We are very disappointed with the results. Defections from the Congress and cross-voting by its legislators are rampant in many states and it has now happened in Bengal, too. But Left members voting for an extremely rightist party like Trinamul is bizarre. We have suffered a big image loss,” a CPM state secretariat member said this evening.
The CPM’s Ritabrata Banerjee got elected to the upper House with 57 first-preference votes, the highest among the five candidates from Bengal.
As murmurs of alleged Trinamul efforts to engineer cross-voting started doing the rounds, the Left backed off the plan to transfer its extra first-preference votes to the Congress-supported Independent, Ahmad Saeed Malihabadi.
“We had initially pledged support to Malihabadi. But when we came to know that all Congress MLAs might not vote for him, we backtracked as he could not have won in that case,” a CPM leader said.
“Moreover, ensuring the victory of our candidate (Ritabrata) was our first priority. There were reports that Trinamul was poaching our men too, which turned out to be true. So, this morning, we told the Left MLAs to vote for Ritabrata only,” he added.
Opposition leader Surjya Kanta Mishra of the CPM said 10 Left MLAs gave their second-preference votes to Malihabadi.
The last-minute plan change was also aimed at taking the sting out of Trinamul’s allegation that the Left was hand-in-glove with the Congress, sources said.
But it would be difficult for the CPM leadership to digest the insult heaped on it by the three Left MLAs, particularly against the backdrop of alleged attacks on the coalition by Trinamul across the state.
This is, however, not the first time Left legislators have cross-voted. In 1993, the then Congress Rajya Sabha candidate from Bengal, Pranab Mukherjee, had won amid reports that four Left MLAs had voted for him. The Congress didn’t have the required number of votes to get Mukherjee elected.
In 2000, two years after the formation of Trinamul, then Opposition leader Mamata Banerjee had backed Jayanta Bhattacharyya as an Independent for the Rajya Sabha elections. Trinamul didn’t have any legislators then but had got the support of a section of the state Congress.
The majority of Bengal Congress MLAs — peeved at the high command’s move to turn down the state legislature party’s recommendation, Somen Mitra, and give the ticket to Debaprasad Roy — voted for Bhattacharyya and ensured his election.
A Left leader sought to differentiate between earlier instances of cross-voting in Bengal and what transpired today.
“There is a qualitative difference. Earlier, people had cross-voted for political reasons. This time, Trinamul leaders engineered defections,” a senior Left leader said, hinting at the use of money power during today’s voting.
Mamata Banerjee, however, cited “ideological” reasons for the cross-voting.
The RSP’s Tirkey and Adhikari said they decided to vote for Trinamul because they wanted the development of north Bengal. Mondal, the Bloc MLA, said he was upset with the state leadership.
The RSP said exemplary action would be taken against the two MLAs.
“Our state secretariat will decide on the nature of punishment. But we don’t want to do something that could help the two MLAs retain their House membership,” former RSP MP Manoj Bhattacharya said, hinting that expulsion might not be an option.
The Bloc said it would soon decide on the action against Mondal.