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Former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee passes away

Pratim Ranjan Bose Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on August 13, 2018 Published on August 13, 2018

Former Lok Sabha Speaker and CPI(M) veteran Somnath Chatterjee. File Photo   -  The Hindu

Former Lok Sabha Speaker given state funeral on Monday.

Was one of the longest serving Parliamentarians in India’s history

 Former Speaker and 10 time MP, Somnath Chatterjee passed away at a south Kolkata hospital on Monday morning. He was admitted to a city nursing home on last week for kidney-related ailment. He was 89.

A barrister by profession, Chatterjee was the first and the last communist leader to be elected as Speaker of the Lok Sabha in 2004, a position that he held till 2009, ignoring the party diktat.

He is survived by wife Renu, a son and two daughters.

A Jyoti Basu loyalist, he was central committee member of CPI(M) between 1998 and 2008. He was also the leader of the party in the Parliament between1989 and 2004.

In July 2008, the CPI(M) - with Prakash Karat at the helm of its affairs - decided to withdraw support from the UPA government over the nuclear deal.

Chatterjee was asked to step-down and vote against UPA, which he refused to oblige, citing constitutional responsibilities. He believed the position of the Speaker should independent and unbiased, way above the party politics.

He was expelled from CPI(M) on July 23, 2008, days after the no-confidence motion was defeated. Chatterjee described it as “one of the saddest days” of his life but he was never apologetic about the decision.

 

“I was right”

Chatterjee earned the reputation of a strict “head master” from the Parliamentarians for his impartial conduct. Before he was expelled from CPI(M), the Left MPs often grumbled that Chatterjee called them last, to prove his impartiality.

He was instrumental in telecasting the Zero Hour proceedings in the Parliament. A full-fledged 24-hour Lok Sabha television channel also came into being in July, 2006 during his tenure.

It was during the period he raised a storm by criticising the country’s Supreme Court for stepping into the shoes of the legislature.

In 2005, the apex court decided to advance the date of floor test for Shibu Soren government to prove its majority. Both UPA and the NDA were in favour but Chatterjee suggested Presidential reference.

"Someday, once the dust settles, you will realise that I was right (about encroachment on the legislature's authority)," Chatterjee reportedly told V.K. Malhotra, deputy leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha.

 

Long stint

Chatterjee was born at Tezpur in Assam on July 25, 1929, to Parliamentarian father NC Chatterjee, who was once president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, and Binapani Debi; and was educated in Kolkata and the UK.

According to CPI(M) sources, he joined the Parliamentary politics in 1971 as a CPI(M)-backed Independent candidate from Burdwan. The seat was left vacant after his father’s death.

Since then Chatterjee won nine Lok Sabha terms from Jadavpur and Bolpur constituencies in Bengal.  He lost only one election in 1984, to then youth Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, at Jadavpur Constituency. 

 

Bengal’s Industrialisation

Chatterjee will be remembered for his pioneering efforts to industrialise Bengal. The CPI(M)-Led Left front came to power in 1977 riding on militant trade unionism that sent the capital packing from the State.

The trend continued till 1980’s, when then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu wanted to make amends. Chatterjee then took charge of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) and used his personal influence in promoting the State to industry.

Though initial flow of investments were low, West Bengal got at least two large investments – The Chatterjee Group’s Haldia Petrochemicals and MCPI ofMitsubishi Chemicals – during this period. MCPI was then the largest Japanese FDI.

Chatterjee had quit WBIDC, soon after Basu relinquished position in 2000. But the investments in the State gained momentum till the unfortunate Singur episode in 2008.  

 

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Published on August 13, 2018
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