High drama marked the eve of the biennial Rajya Sabha polls in West Bengal for five seats, amid speculations Thursday that a few legislators of the opposition Congress and Left Front were likely to vote for the ruling Trinamool Congress.
Both Congress and the Left Front alleged that their lawmakers were being "poached upon" by the Trinamool through generous offerings of cash and intimidation. The Trinamool denied the accusations. There were reports that former state minister and Congress lawmaker Abu Naser Khan Choudury, a brother of late Congress heavyweight Abu Barkat Ataur Ghani Khan Choudhury, would cross over to the Trinamool before the Rajya Sabha polls Friday and vote for the party.
Another Congress member Sushil Roy's name was also doing the rounds as a possible renegade. None of the two legislators could be contacted for comments.
State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya wrote to the Election Commission complaining that the Trinamool was threatening its legislators. "The ruling Trinamool Congress party, violating the Election Code of Conduct, is threatening Congress MLAs and kidnapped some Congress MLAs," the letter alleged.
There was tension in the Left Front camp too, with three lawmakers - two of Revolutionary Socialist Party and another belonging to the all India Forward Bloc - remaining incommunicado.
A missing diary was filed at the Park Street police station as RSP lawmaker Ananta Deb Adhikari remained untraced. A television channel later claimed that Adhikari was seen in the company of a Trinamool minister and one of its top leaders. But there was no independent confirmation.
Another RSP MLA Dasrath Tirkey and an AIFB legislator Sushil Mondal was also missing till late Thursday evening.
At a hurriedly convened media meet, LF spearhead Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) legislator Rabin Deb accused the Trinamool Congress of luring away his party members through unfair means.
Deb said TMC workers have been "influencing" CPI-M members to vote for the ruling party in the the Rajya Sabha polls. "A complaint has been lodged with the chief election commissioner, state chief electoral officer central election observer with our grievances. TMC workers have been using various methods, including scare tactics, money and promise of high posts to influence our legislators," he said. There are six candidates in fray for the five Rajya Sabha seats.
Three Trinamool candidates actor Mithun Chakrabarty, former MP KD Singh and painter Jogendranath Chowdhuy as well as the only CPI-M candidate Ritabarata Banerjee look set to be elected.
A tough contest is on the cards for the fifth seat between Trinamool nominee Ahmad Hasan and independent candidate Ahmed Saeed Mahilabadi, the latter backed by the Congress and the LF. The LF has said it would transfer its surplus votes to ensure Malihabadi's victory.
A candidate would need 49 first preference votes to be elected to the upper house from the state. Malihabadi can make the cut if he secures the votes of all LF and Congress MLAs, but Hasan may emerge triumphant in case of cross voting.
Trinamool Congress general secretary Mukul Roy claimed his party was in a position to elect its fourth candidate on its own strength.