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Front retracts on Malihabadi
- Left red-faced as three cross-vote for Trinamul candidate in Rajya Sabha poll

Calcutta, Feb. 7: The Left today suffered the ignominy of witnessing three of its MLAs cross-voting for a Trinamul candidate in the Rajya Sabha elections, raising questions about the future of the coalition in the face of alleged poaching by the ruling party.

The RSP’s Dasarath Tirkey and Ananta Deb Adhikari, both from Jalpaiguri, and the Forward Bloc’s Sunil Mondal, from Burdwan’s Galsi, voted for Ahmed Hassan and ensured that he sailed through.

The CPM had a face-saver as none of its MLAs fell prey to alleged Trinamul overtures but couldn’t avoid the embarrassment of partners cross-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 happened in Bengal, too, today. But people from the Left 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.

Such was the scenario in the aftermath of Trinamul engineering cross-voting today that the Left coalition backed off from its plan to transfer its extra 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 would 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.

The last-minute 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 Left to digest the insult heaped on it by the three MLAs, particularly against the backdrop of alleged attacks on the Front 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. “But he won the Rajya Sabha elections because some Left Front MLAs voted for him,” a Left source said today.

But Mukherjee didn’t have to face questions on whether the Left had voted for him as the Rajya Sabha elections used to take place through secret ballot then.

“Everybody understood what had happened then. But officially, nobody could ask Pranabbabu that uncomfortable question,” a Bloc leader said.

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 Congress.

The majority of Bengal Congress MLAs — peeved at the high command’s move to turn down the state legislature party’s recommendation to field Somen Mitra and give the ticket to Debaprasad Roy — voted for Bhattacharyya and ensured his election.

“It is true that cross-voting had taken place before. But there is a qualitative difference. Earlier, people had cross-voted for political reasons. This time, Trinamul leaders engineered defections. This has never happened before,” a senior Left leader said.

Trinamul also cited the work the government has done for tribals and the minority community, reasons that can be construed as political, for the cross-voting and the success of Trinamul.

Dasrath Tirkey and Ananta Deb 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 state leadership today said exemplary action would be taken against the two MLAs who cross-voted for Trinamul. “Our state secretariat will meet and decide on the nature of punishment. But we don’t want to do something that can help the two MLAs retain their House membership,” former RSP MP Manoj Bhattacharya said this evening, hinting that expulsion might not be an option.

The Forward Bloc said it would decide on the action against the MLA who didn’t vote for the Left candidate. “We will first meet and then decide,” Bloc spokesperson Hafiz Alam Sairani said.