March 7, 2009

WBLA terminates memberships of two sitting Congress MLAs

KOLKATA: In an unprecedented move, the Speaker of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly (WBLA) Hasim Abdul Halim, on Friday, terminated the memberships of two sitting Congress MLAs, Somen Mitra and Sudip Banerjee, under the anti-defection laws. Responding to a plea made before him by the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) chief Manas Bhunia, Mr Halim, on Friday, took the historic decision of expelling the sitting Congress MLAs.
This is for the first time since 1977 when the Left Front government came to power in the state that two sitting members of the WBLA have lost their membership. After dismissing the two MLAs, Mr Halim said that "both of them were given enough time to explain why steps would not be taken against them under the anti-defection rules. But, they have not responded and I feel this is a fit case to disqualify them." Mr Bhunia, who brought anti-defection charges against the MLAs, said, "The Speaker has taken the right decision by terminating the memberships of the two MLAs. I think both have been unethical. While one has joined another political party after winning the elections on a Congress symbol, the other has floated his own party, without relinquishing his membership, after winning the election on a Congress ticket."
Mr Mitra had been one of the seniormost Congress legislators in West Bengal and represented the Sealdah assembly seat without any interruption since 1982. He won the assembly seat for the last time in 2006 on a Congress ticket, but recently left the party to float his own organisation, Progressive Indira Congress (PIC), which will be an ally of Mamata Banerjee during the coming Lok Sabha elections. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee announced on Friday evening that both Mr Mitra and Mr Banerjee will contest the Lok Sabha elections on her party symbol. It is learnt that Mitra is likely to contest the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha seat, while Banerjee may fight the Kolkata North Lok Sabha constituency.
Interestingly, both the Sealdah and Bowbazar assembly seats (the latter being Banerjee’s domain) does not exist now following the delimitation of all the 42 Lok Sabha and 294 assembly seats in West Bengal. Like Mr Mitra, Mr Banerjee was also elected to the state Assembly on a Congress ticket during the 2006 assembly elections from Bowbazar. Recently, he rejoined Trinamool Congress and faced the ire of the CLP. Mr Banerjee also represented the Bowbazar seat in 1987, 1991 and 1996. During 2001 assembly elections, Bowbazar was left to Nayana Banerjee, Sudip’s wife, who too won the seat on a Trinamool Congress ticket.
However, like Sealdah, Bowbazar assembly seat also does not exist after the delimitation. Following the Speaker’s verdict, the Congress has lost two seats in the state legislature reducing their tally to 19. Trinamool Congress, however, increased their tally in the state legislature as the newly elected party MLA from Bishnupur West Assembly seat, Madan Mitra took oath on Friday. Now, Trinamool Congress has 32 MLAs with the party also winning the Nandigram and Bishnupur West assembly by-elections in the past four months.
It is expected that by-elections to fill up the vacant Congress seats will be held before the 2011 assembly elections. The chief electoral officer (CEO), West Bengal, Debasish Sen, when contacted, said, "We have not yet received any official communication about termination of the two MLAs. We will take necessary steps after getting word of it from the state assembly." It is learnt that by-elections to these two assembly segments, which have been remodelled after the delimitation, can take place along with the coming Lok Sabha elections.

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