Flashback: Somnath Chatterjee’s expulsion and bipartisan stand that defined his persona

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August 13, 2018 12:51 PM

Chatterjee's expulsion from his party, following what many term his 'call of conscience', serves as the moment which defined his persona in public life.

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Somnath Chatterjee, one of the tallest left-wing politicians in India’s history, passed away on Monday. He was 89. While there were many highs in the career of the 10-time Member of Parliament, Chatterjee’s expulsion from his party, following what many term his ‘call of conscience’, serves as the moment which defined his persona in public life. Chatterjee, serving as Member of Parliament for the 10th time, was elected as the Speaker of Lok Sabha after CPI(M) decided to support Manmohan Singh-led UPA government in 2004.

However, his party decided to withdraw support to the government in mid-2008 and backed a no-confidence motion brought by BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. In its list of MPs, the party included the name of Somnath Chatterjee, still serving as the Speaker. Here, Chatterjee opined that his position as the Speaker mandates him to maintain a non-partisan stand and calls for a decision which is above party politics. Hence, the man who had anchored his party in Lok Sabha multiple times before 2004, decided in its defiance this time.

Irked by Chatterjee’s stand, the CPI(M) politburo, known for its non-sacrificial stands, called a meeting and expelled the leader otherwise known as the ‘patriarch’ of the left party. The party pointed out that Lok Sabha Speakers such as the Congress’s Shivraj Patil or the Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi remained submissive to their parties and never claimed that they were above the party.

However, Chatterjee continued as the Speaker as he was not expelled as an MP, that too, because the party had not issued a whip in the House. As per the constitution, a party may expell its member if he acts against its whip.

Chatterjee described the moment as the saddest day of his life. As per Kanti Ganguly, a senior left leader and former minister in Bengal government, Chatterjee said, “Losing one’s father is sad, but today is the saddest day in my life. The party expelled me. It’s an unfortunate day in my life. I fulfilled my duty as a Speaker. Sitting in that chair, I cannot be biased and my party has expelled me.”

He later advised all future speakers to resign after being elected to the Chair. Chatterjee retired from active politics after completion of his term as the Speaker.

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