M A I N   N E W S

The day after, a flurry of expulsions
CPM shows the door to Somnath Chatterjee
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Chatterjee’s expulsion came two days prior to his 80th birthday tomorrow. He was born in Tezpur, Assam, on July 25, 1929.

New Delhi, July 23
In the political memory of our times, this parting may well register as the most bitter. It came gradually, with dirty trailers being played out in the open ever since the Left withdrew support to the UPA government over the N-deal. The CPM, on whose ticket Somnath Chatterjee contested and won 10 Lok Sabha elections, expected the comrade to resign as Speaker of the Lok Sabha, on moral grounds.

Chatterjee, however, saw his calling elsewhere, and paid a price for it, a price he earlier said he was ready to pay.

The results were obvious, with the CPM today expelling Chatterjee from primary membership of the party. At the end of a silent but sustained standoff between the two, the CPM held that Chatterjee had seriously compromised party position.

“The Politburo has unanimously decided to expel Chatterjee from the membership of the party with immediate effect. The action has been taken under Article XIX, clause 13 of the Party Constitution,” said a Politburo statement that ended, with a stroke, a relationship of 40 years.

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan defended the decision, saying: “The way Chatterjee went on defying fundamental directions of the party, we had no way out.” Congress’ Jayanti Natarajan, however, supported Chatterjee saying he is a Lok Sabha member as long as he is in the Speaker’s chair. “He is the Speaker of Lok Sabha, not the CPM,” she said.

Left sources, however, seemed convinced about the Politburo decision, and said the party had given Chatterjee ample opportunity to come around. The expulsion came few days after CPM general secretary Prakash Karat indicated that the Politburo would take a view on the matter; the party had reportedly given Chatterjee time until today.

Earlier, Karat had said the party would like the Speaker to decide for himself. But his wish was like writing on the wall, which Chatterjee could not honour, the sources said.

The Speaker, on his part, hinted at his expulsion yesterday when he resigned from some party posts. He is yet to take a stand, and is right now readying for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting in Kaula Lumpur from August 1 to August 10. Though constitutionally the Speaker can stay in his post, the sources say he may resign on August 11. There is also speculation that he has been offered a slot by Amartya Sen in one of his India-based foundations.

As for the crisis, it began soon after the Left announced withdrawal of support to the UPA government. In the list of Left MPs handed over to the President to formalise support withdrawal, the CPM included Chatterjee’s name - an act that “compromised his constitutional position by politicising it”.

From here on, things turned ugly with the Speaker clarifying his “non-political role” and indicating to the Left that he would take his own decision. Interventions of senior party leaders, including Jyoti Basu, also did not help the CPM get desired results. No wonder senior Left leader Biman Bose justified the Left’s stand against Chatterjee saying “party discipline has to be respected.”

A peek into history of Chatterjee’s relationship with the Left bares a “not-so-heartening” picture. Insiders say Somnath was never very flexible when it came to toeing party line. Some say the Cambridge-educated Barrister came from the section that joined the Left, but could never follow its discipline code.

The strains in fact go back to 1992 when the CPM issued show-cause notices to Chatterjee and another Lok Sabha member Saifuddin Choudhury for siding with the Congress. Though the latter was expelled, Chatterjee remained with the party and won 10 Lok Sabha elections on its ticket. He lost once in 1984 to Mamta Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress.

That apart, Chatterjee, for 40 years, remained the face of the CPM in the Lok Sabha. With roots in the CPM, he won the outstanding parliamentarian award, and later the post of the Speaker of 14th Lok Sabha.

Though precedence required him to resign from the party after he was elected Speaker (several speakers in the past did so), he remained with the party. In fact, he was in the party’s central committee till Karat during the CPM’s 18th Congress asked him to give up the position on grounds that he would not be able to handle so many responsibilities at the same time.



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