New Delhi: Left parties were Thursday divided on the Presidential election with CPI-M and Forward Bloc deciding to support UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee while CPI and RSP opting to abstain from the voting.

The four parties could not arrive at a consensus at an hour-long meeting here this evening attended by top leaders of the parties, including Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), A B Bardhan (CPI), T J Chandrachoodan (RSP) and Debabrata Biswas (FB).

"Two parties have declared they will support Pranab Mukherjee, two parties have decided they will abstain," Bardhan told reporters without elaborating.

Karat said his party has decided to support the candidature of 77-year-old Mukherjee as "in the present situation, he is the candidate for the post of President with the widest possible acceptance".

The CPI-M leader said support to Mukherjee did not mean backing for Congress and that his party will "resolutely fight" the "anti-people" policies of UPA government.

Forward Bloc General Secretary Debabrata Biswas said his party was not in favour of abstaining from the voting slated for July 19 for which the battle lines have been drawn between Mukherjee and P A Sangma.

RSP General Secretary T J Chandrachoodan said his party will abstain from the voting.

Bardhan said the Left parties will remain united though they are taking different stands on Presidential poll issue.

"As far as Left Front is concerned, it will continue as ever, it will continue to be united as ever. This is only one single incident where there is a difference of opinion, a slight difference of opinion. We will continue our movements and struggles jointly," he said.

The CPI-M's decision to support Mukherjee came after a meeting of the party's Polit Bureau this morning in which the senior leaders deliberated on the issue.

Sources said one section of the party was for abstaining from the poll while another was for supporting Mukherjee. The section advocating abstention was of the view that they could not be seen voting for a Congress candidate.

They said Mukherjee had reached out to Karat on Tuesday seeking his party's support but the CPI-M leader had not given any commitment. Mukherjee had telephoned Karat as part of Congress exercise to get support from non-UPA parties.

Left parties account for around 51,000 vote value in the electoral college of 10.98 lakh vote value.

During the Left meeting, Forward Bloc backed Mukherjee, saying he has earned the "widest possible acceptance" and that it wanted to drive a "wedge" between Congress and Trinamool Congress. The party has two MPs and 12 MLAs.

G Deverajan, National Secretary of Forward Bloc said that the Left parties had earlier decided that the candidate should have the "widest possible acceptance" and in the present context, the Congress veteran has got support from the political spectrum.

"Mukherjee has support from all sides. UPA is behind it. NDA allies Shiv Sena and JD(U) are in his favour. Two non-UPA, non-NDA parties, BSP and SP are supporting him. Now he has the widest possible acceptance," Deverajan said.

The Left parties together have a total vote share of 4.7 percent in the Presidential election, including 0.89 percent of CPI and RSP which have decided to abstain from voting.

Replying to questions, Karat said the CPI-M Politburo, which met earlier in the day, decided to extend its support to Mukherjee who had the "widest acceptance".

But CPI and RSP "did not have a common agreement" on Mukherjee, who was supported by CPI-M and Forward Bloc.

The CPI-M leader said his party took the decision on the basis of "consultations with other non-Congress secular opposition parties", including JD(S) and TDP, before arriving at the decision to support the UPA nominee.

"While taking this decision, we have taken all these views (of secular opposition parties). Our Politburo held a detailed discussion and came to this decision," Karat said.

Asked whether this would mean support to Congress-led UPA, he said since 1992, CPI(M) and other Left parties have supported Congress candidates, barring the election of A P J Abdul Kalam when they had put up Lakshmi Sehgal, a veteran of Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army.

The Left parties had supported Shankar Dayal Sharma "even when we had opposed P V Narasimha Rao's government and its policies. .... Presidential poll has wider implications".

"Supporting the UPA nominee does not mean we support Congress-led government and its neo-liberal policies. We have never believed in consensus, but we have been asking for the widest possible agreement," he said.

Asked whether their support to Mukherjee was to score a political point against Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress and what advise would he give to her, Karat said, "Why should I advise anyone? I suppose she is still with UPA. She will take her own decision."

The Forward Bloc General Secretary said his party would vote for Mukherjee as on earlier occasions "we have voted for the Congress nominee".

Maintaining that his party was against abstention from voting in the Presidential election, Biswas said, "It is unfortunate that when both UPA and NDA are divided, Left cannot remain united."

RSP's Chandrachoodan and Abani Roy said they had decided to abstain from voting because of their "unqualified opposition to UPA rule and its neo-liberal economic policies."

In a similar vein, CPI leader D Raja said there was not much of a difference between Mukherjee and Sangma as they had similar views on economic policies. "Congress and BJP collaborate on major economic policies. Therefore, we cannot extend support to Mukherjee.

The differences amongst the Left parties was "limited to the question of Presidential polls and we will continue to work together on all other issues," Raja said.

His party colleague Gurudas Dasgupta said, "If we vote (for Mukherjee), we will have no option to protest. We cannot support him as he is one of the chief architects of neo- liberal policies. Neither can we support the NDA candidate."

"How can we support him (Mukherjee) if under his and his government's stewardship, the economy has gone down and the people's sufferings have increased," Dasgupta said.

While the decision to abstain from the Presidential vote was taken by the CPI Central Secretariat, it would have to be ratified by the party's National Executive which would meet here on Monday.


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