Sekhar Datta, TT, Agartala, Aug. 29: Tripura Speaker Ramendra Debnath today upheld the defection of six Congress MLAs to the All India Trinamul Congress as a “valid merger” under para 4(2) of the Tenth Schedule.
He also dismissed PCC president and MLA Birajit Sinha’s plea for disqualifying five of the six defectors – Sudip Roy Barman, Asish Saha, Pranjit Singha Roy, Dibachandra Hrangkhawal, and Dilip Sarkar – from membership of the Assembly, and treating Biswabandhu Sen, MLA from Dharmanagar, as an unattached member because of an expulsion order served on him earlier. The Speaker called in question the “jurisdictional competence” of the PCC president in expelling Sen, who as an MLA could be expelled only by the party’s working committee according to provisions of the Congress constitution.
The Speaker’s 12-page order, containing references to various judgements passed by high courts and the Supreme Court, was released this morning and sent to the six defectors and the PCC president.
While the six defectors, including Roy Barman, who is a former leader of the Opposition and a former PCC president, described the decision a “triumph of democracy”, Sinha expressed his reservations over the order.
“The Speaker seems to have passed a political order in violation of the orders of the Supreme Court and a number of high courts that I had referred to in my letter. He has protected the membership of the defectors in the Assembly with an eye to political future,” the PCC president said, adding that he would consult his lawyers to examine whether the Speaker’s order could be challenged in court.
Roy Barman said the Trinamul would not claim the post of leader of the Opposition because it constitutes one-tenth of the 60-member Assembly, that is six members.
According to Tripura Assembly’s rules of procedure, one-sixth strength of the Assembly is required for recognition as Opposition. “Rules vary from state to state. In Tripura, you need at least one-sixth membership of the 60-member Assembly or 10 MLAs for recognition as Opposition and for the post of leader of the Opposition,” the Speaker said.
The order, passed temporarily, ended a drama in state politics over the break-up of the Congress and the emergence of the Trinamul in the legislature.
It was the formation of an electoral understanding between the Congress and the CPM for the West Bengal Assembly elections that had caused serious resentment in the leadership of the state Congress. Roy Barman had flayed the alliance after the Congress was relegated to fourth position in the byelection to Amarpur Assembly constituency in December last year. Having established contact with the Trinamul leadership in West Bengal, he resigned as leader of the Opposition in the Assembly on March 27 and won the support of Saha, Singha Roy, Hrangkhawal, Sarkar and Sen.
Things, however, got complicated as another Congress MLA, Jiten Sarkar, a former Speaker and longstanding CPM leader and MLA who had joined the Congress in 2010, tendered his resignation as MLA on May 6.
Apart from this, in order to scuttle the defectors’ move to join Trinamul, Sinha had furnished to the Speaker a copy of the letter showing that Sen had been expelled in the first week of June. The expulsion, if upheld by the Speaker, would have turned Sen into an unattached member and nullified the membership of the remaining five defectors as their strength would have gone down to less than two-third of the total Congress strength in the House which was required to prove the desertion as a “split”.
This was followed by hectic parleys between the defectors and the top rung of Trinamul leadership in Calcutta and the party’s all-India general secretary Mukul Roy visited Tripura thrice and held meetings. Finally, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee addressed a rally in Agartala on August 9 to organise the party unit here.
Meanwhile, the Speaker held a series of “hearings” with the six defectors and Sinha to ascertain their views and to see the papers they had submitted. Today, he finally upheld the defection as a “valid merger”.
With six defections and one resignation, the Sinha-led Congress now has three MLAs in the Assembly. The CPM has 49 members with the death of one of its MLAs, Samir Deb Sarkar, yesterday.