Somnath Chatterjee, 10-Time Lok Sabha MP & India's First Communist LS Speaker Passes Away At 89
On the morning of August 13, Indian lost Somnath Chatterjee, a seasoned Parliamentarian, a veteran in Indian politics and one of the most illustrious Left leaders. At 89, the former Lok Sabha speaker breathed his last at a Kolkata hospital. Reportedly, he was admitted to a hospital on June 25 after he suffered from a haemorrhagic stroke. Chatterjee was put on ventilator support after a cardiac arrest on August 7.
Sorry to hear of the passing of Shri Somnath Chatterjee, former Speaker of the Lok Sabha and a veteran parliamentarian who had a forceful presence in the House. A loss for public life in Bengal and India. My condolences to his family and innumerable well-wishers #PresidentKovind
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) August 13, 2018
According to The Hindu, hours after his death, Somnath Chatterjee’s body was donated to the state-run SSKM Hospital for medical research. Before his body reached its final destination, it was kept in three locations – the Calcutta High Court where he spent his early days as an advocate, then at West Bengal State Legislative Assembly and finally at his residence. Earlier in 2010, former West Bengal Chief Minister and CPI(M) leader Jyoti Basu’s body was also donated to the medical college for research after his death. Reportedly, Chatterjee had pledged to donate his body in 2002.
With a decades-long political career, the distinguished Parliamentarian donned more than one hat. Chatterjee was a 10-time Lok Sabha MP and a central committee member of CPI(M) till 2008 before he was expelled for violation of party discipline. While he was the first communist in India to become a Lok Sabha speaker under the UPA-I government between 2004 to 2009, he was also the first key CPI(M) leader to defy his party.
Somnath Chatterjee’s political career
Born in Assam’s Tezpur on July 25, 1929, and raised in Kolkata, the UK-trained barrister who was working in Calcutta High Court entered formal politics in 1968 as a member of CPI(M). Following the death of his father, NC Chatterjee was a parliamentarian and one of the founders of Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, in 1971, Somnath Chatterjee contested an interim election from that constituency and won. He was then elected as an independent candidate supported by the CPI(M). In his 40-year-long political career, he only lost once, in 1984 to Mamata Banerjee who contested elections from the Jadavpur constituency.
From 1989 to 2004, Somnath Chatterjee was the leader of his party in the Lok Sabha. After the 2004 elections, he was elected as the pro tem Speaker and on June 4, 2004, Chatterjee was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the 14th Lok Sabha – the second pro tem speaker after Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar to attain that feat. In 1996, Chatterjee was one of the first recipients of the ‘Outstanding Parliamentarian’ award. It was also under his initiative that the Zero Hour proceedings were telecasted live from July 5, 2004.
Known for his debating skills and extensive knowledge of international and national issues, Chatterjee served as the chairman of several parliamentary committees.
Expelled from CPI(M)
However, in 2008, during the tussle between CPI(M) and the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-I government over the Indo-US nuclear deal, Chatterjee was expelled from his party. The CPI(M) was not in support of the deal and wanted Chatterjee to step-down from his role as the speaker of the Lok Sabha. However, he refused to do so and held that his role as a speaker was above partisanship and party norms.
However, within a month’s time, the CPI(M) expelled Chatterjee from the part with immediate effect stating that the party constitution is supreme. This, he dubbed as “one of the saddest days” of his life. His constituency, Bolpur in West Bengal was also reserved for Scheduled Castes, which made him ineligible to contest the seat in future elections. He continued to serve his term as the Lok Sabha speaker till 2009, with the support from the ruling government.
Even though the former Lok Sabha speaker spent the last decade of his life away from the spotlight of Indian politics, he leaves behind a legacy which enriched Indian politics in more than one way. His advocacy for the independence of the Lok Sabha speaker’s position is one of the highlights of his long-standing political career, for which he even defied party norms.