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Next from CPM: Mukul

Calcutta, Feb. 8: The three Left legislators who voted for Trinamul candidates in Friday’s Rajya Sabha polls joined the ruling party today, prompting a triumphant Mukul Roy to threaten big brother CPM with defections now.

“Till now, we have got (members of) Left Front allies. Now we shall also get CPM legislators, many of whom are in touch with us,” Roy, toasted as the architect of the strategy that helped Trinamul get all its four candidates elected, told The Telegraph.

“The way the CPM is functioning, there are many fence-sitters in the party who will switch to our side.”

The RSP’s Dasrath Tirkey and Ananta Deb Adhikari and the Forward Bloc’s Sunil Kumar Mondal rushed to Trinamul Bhavan today and posed for the cameras with Roy, the party’s all-India general secretary and a Mamata Banerjee confidant.

Of the three Congress cross-voters, all of whom have been suspended by the party, one is already with Trinamul informally while the two others are expected to join it.

Trinamul sources today hailed Roy as their “Chanakya-cum-Anil Biswas”, crediting him with single-handedly ensuring the councillor defections that helped the party wrest 12 municipalities in recent months, extending its control to 120 of the state’s 127 civic bodies.

Biswas, the late CPM state secretary, is regarded as the brains behind the Marxists’ long run in power and the ancient scholar Chanakya remains a byword for realpolitik.

Sources close to Roy said his real test had been the Rajya Sabha elections, and he had passed with flying colours.

“The next target is the Lok Sabha elections; I have nothing else in mind,” Roy told this newspaper.

The Left, whose much-vaunted cohesion is under threat, has complained to the Election Commission that Trinamul has been using money and coercion to engineer defections. But Mamata denied the allegation yesterday saying the cross-voting stemmed from ideological reasons. Roy made the same point today.

Trinamul sources, however, said Roy was keeping himself updated on all the goings-on in the Left and the Congress so he could make “foolproof” plans to ensure more defections ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

Several Opposition MLAs this newspaper spoke to said they had received text-message invites to talks with purported Trinamul leaders.

“Many of us have been receiving SMSes sent under the names of Trinamul leaders…. Some have responded to the messages but most have ignored them,” a Congress lawmaker said.

The only CPM member said to have been approached to cross-vote yesterday went to his party bosses and complained, but a Trinamul source today insisted: “Now the focus is on the CPM.”

He added: “Disgruntled Congress elements too are being tapped. The Left Front partners were the first target as they had grouses against the CPM for its highhandedness.”

The six MLAs who cross-voted have cited ideological reasons, echoing the Trinamul stand, but a city-based political scientist was not convinced.

“In case of ideological differences with the parent party, leaders generally sit out. They don’t join the enemy,” he suggested. “It’s clear that the cross-voting has more to do with personal gain.”

A Trinamul source denied any role of money but said defectors were being promised “a win from the same seat if the MLA has to quit, or a Lok Sabha ticket, or even a minister’s post”.

The Trinamul leadership believes that poaching local-level leaders and lawmakers would help build organisational strength and pulverise the Congress and the Left in their remaining strongholds.

However, some in the party said defections could bring potential problems too, such as an increase in internal faction fights.

“The number of claimants for Lok Sabha or Assembly tickets will increase if we continue in this manner,” a party senior said.

In the run-up to the general election, one key task for the Trinamul leadership would be to address the factional feuds in the district units. Mamata had to intervene in Hooghly and West Midnapore ahead of the panchayat polls to ensure that in-house squabbles wouldn’t get out of hand.

“We may have more political leaders (after defections) but ultimately it is the people who vote. This aggressive wooing of other parties’ leaders may not send the right signal to the voter,” a Trinamul leader said.

State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya too warned that engineering defections could boomerang.

“Let these MLAs resign and face elections. The common people will cast their votes and not an electoral college (as in the Rajya Sabha polls). Everything will become clear,” he said.