While Droupadi Murmu’s victory in the Presidential elections was a foregone conclusion, what has also got the BJP-led NDA excited is the support she received from unexpected quarters — in Assam, for instance, 22 leaders from the Opposition ranks voted in her favour, the highest in any state.
“Droupadi Murmu polled 104 votes compared to NDA’s original strength of 79 in the 126-member Assam Assembly. 2 absent. My heartfelt gratitude to the people of Assam…” Chief Minister Himanta Sarma tweeted on Thursday evening.
In the 126-member Assam House, the Opposition has 44 MLAs — Congress (27), AIUDF (15), and one each from CPI(M) and Independent ranks. This means half of them voted for Murmu.
This is a throwback to the Rajya Sabha polls in March, when cross-voting led to NDA winning both vacant seats from the state, even though the ruling front did not have the numbers for a second seat. A war of words had ensued between once-allies Congress and AIUDF, and each accused the other of breaking ranks.
This time, though, the Congress was forced to concede that its MLAs also cross-voted, given that the AIUDF had only 13 members on the floor of the Assembly when voting took place. “It is 100 percent certain that six Congress MLAs cross-voted — there is no point hiding it,” state Congress chief Bhupen Borah said.
On Friday, Sarma told the media that “15-16 votes” for Murmu came from the Congress but it was “inappropriate to look for political meaning in it”. “This is not a division. For a post like that of the President of India, a vote is informed by conscience,” he said.
The AIUDF claimed that none of its MLAs voted for Murmu.
Stating that “action” will be taken against the errant Congress MLAs, Borah told the media, “These people are double-faced; they let go of all their principles, and surrendered their ideology. We will be able to identify them, and we will take action accordingly.”
When Opposition candidate for the President’s polls, Yashwant Sinha, came to Assam earlier in the month, Borah said, all 27 legislators “stood by his side” in a show of support. “If it [voting for Murmu] was a decision based on their conscience, no one minds. But they should have been frank with us from the beginning…” he said.
Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Congress’s Debabrata Saikia, blamed BJP’s “dirty politics” for the cross-voting. “The ruling party is responsible for such dirty politics — there is neither any ethics nor transparency. Our Chief Minister frequently says in public that Opposition MLAs have no real power. He is responsible for the decay of democracy,” Saikia said.
State minister and BJP leader Pijush Hazarika, however, rubbished these allegations and said: “This is a conscience vote. The Congress suffers from a trust deficit. Their own legislators do not trust their leaders; (they) instead blame us.”
Chief Minister Sarma said Opposition MLAs representing constituencies that have people from Adivasi and tea garden tribe background “had it in their heart” to vote for Murmu.
Alleging that the Congress had been “cosying up to BJP” on voting day, AIUDF’s Karim Uddin Barbhuiya said, “Since two of our legislators were absent, 13 voted. Not a single one has Adivasi representation in their constituencies. So there was no political obligation or compulsion to break ranks.”