CPI(M) expels Somnath Chatterjee
Special Correspondent (The Hindu, 23 July 2008)
The 10-time MP ‘seriously compromised’ the party’s position by refusing to quit as Speaker
Somnath continued as party member after his election as Speaker
CPI(M) asked him to resign before special Lok Sabha session
NEW DELHI: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) expelled Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee on Wednesday for “seriously compromising the position of the party.” The decision was taken at a meeting of the party’s Polit Bureau.
“The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M),” a press release said, “has unanimously decided to expel Somnath Chatterjee from the membership of the party with immediate effect. This action has been taken under Article XIX, clause 13 of the Party Constitution for seriously compromising the position of the party.”
Associated with the CPI (M) for the past four decades, Mr. Chatterjee, a ten-time MP, assumed the office of Lok Sabha Speaker after the United Progressive Alliance government came to power in mid-2004. He became the first Communist MP to be elected to the high post.
Official sources maintained that the expulsion would not have any legal implication for the position of Mr. Chatterjee as Speaker. The CPI(M) did not issue a whip binding Mr. Chatterjee – who was elected on its ticket but refused to resign his office. Under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, a member, on being elected Speaker of the Lok Sabha, is protected only in a qualified way. The provision is that he “shall not be disqualified under this Schedule…if he, by reason of his election to such office, voluntarily gives up the membership of the political party to which he belonged immediately before such election and does not, as long as he continues to hold such office thereafter, rejoin that political party or become a member of another political party.” Had a whip been issued binding him, Mr. Chatterjee would not have been protected from disqualification, as he continued to be a party member.
After the Left parties withdrew support to the UPA government on July 9, Mr. Chatterjee let it be known that he was determined to continue as Speaker. The 79-year old barrister turned down subtle hints as well as explicit messages from the CPI(M) leadership, including Jyoti Basu, who wanted him to quit the Speaker’s post. The party wanted him to resign before the two-day special session of the Lok Sabha, which began on July 21.
The meeting of the Polit Bureau, chaired by general secretary Prakash Karat, discussed Mr. Chatterjee’s defiance. It concluded unanimously that his conduct seriously compromised the party’s political position. The CPI(M) invoked Article 19(13) of its constitution to expel him. This provision dealing with party discipline states that in exceptional circumstances, party committees in their discretion may resort to summary procedure in expelling members for grave anti-party activities. The Central Committee of the party, which met recently, authorised the Polit Bureau to take appropriate action against Mr. Chatterjee at an appropriate time.
Mr. Chatterjee was defiant, taking the stand that he was above party politics given the nature of the post of Lok Sabha Speaker. He insisted that he would decide for himself and would not submit himself to any party line. The CPI(M) leadership would have none of this, pointing out that Lok Sabha Speakers such as the Congress’s Shivraj Patil or the Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi made no secret of their party loyalties and did not claim they were above the party or exempted from its discipline.
The Speaker’s office declined comment on his expulsion.
Defiant Speaker wins first round against party
KOLKATA, July 22: Though the Manmohan Singh-government won the trust vote today, the Lok Sabha Speaker Mr Somnath Chatterjee won a different battle against his own party hands down.
The way he conducted the proceedings of the House, tongue-lashing his own “Comrades” who were trying to disrupt the debate, showed his no-nonsense and almost brutal neutrality, while making it clear that he was determined to give his party leadership a piece of his mind.
It was the CPI-M MP, Mohammed Salim, who incurred the wrath of the Speaker when he repeatedly interrupted the finance minister, Mr P Chidambaram's speech. The minister was explaining the legal intricacies involving the Hyde Act and the 123 Agreement ~ the lynchpin of the Left's opposition to the nuke deal - and China's plan for the next two decades to step up its nuclear energy from the present 2 per cent. He tried to dissuade Mr Salim from interrupting him with the plea that he had “patiently heard him when he spoke yesterday” and expected the same “courtesy” be extended to him as well.
The Speaker immediately intervened, pulled up Mr Salim and told him that the House was “not a meeting place”.
Then it was the turn of a couple of Left MPs who joined Mr Salim in disrupting the proceedings. “I won't allow such indiscipline in the House. The whole nation is watching. Don't you belong to a disciplined party ? You are glorifying neither your party nor yourself,” he chastised them. The worst that the CPI-M MPs could expect from the Speaker was still in store for them. When the House was resumed after the unprecedented and “shameful” episode involving three BJP MPs displaying wads of money inside the House, the Speaker allowed representatives of some small parties to take part in the debate before the Prime Minister wrapped it up. He was determined not to let anyone else disrupt the proceedings any longer.
Mr Salim suddenly rose to his feet and tried to raise the alleged pay-off.
Immediately, the Speaker was at his acerbic best and asked Mr Salim whether he had personal knowledge about the alleged deal. “If so, why don't you come to this side (meaning the Chair)...” he taunted him. The Speaker had been at the centre of an unprecedented intra-party feud within the CPI-M as its general secretary, Mr Prakash Karat, was adamant that he step down before the trust-vote, while he was equally determined to defy him. His conduct in the House was another defeat of Mr Karat.