Somnath Chatterjee, the former Lok Sabha Speaker, passed away at 89. The expelled member of the CPM died just after 8 am On Monday at a hospital in Kolkata. He had been in and out of hospital since June-end after suffering a stroke. Chatterjee had celebrated his 89th birthday on July 29. He is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.
Chatterjee was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for 40 years since 1968. He represented the party 10 times in parliament, and was acknowledged as one of its most brilliant ever. He lost only one election in his lifetime to Mamata Banerjee from the Jadavpur constituency in 1984.
He has had one of the longest innings of any MP in the Lok Sabha, being elected to it for the first time in 1971. Since then, he has been a Member of Parliament in all successive Lok Sabhas, getting elected for the tenth time in 2004 to the fourteenth Lok Sabha. From 1989 till 2004, he was the leader of the CPI(M) in the Lok Sabha, and was its Speaker from 2004 to 2009.
In 2008, he did something even his friend Jyoti Basu did not. He defied the party diktat. When the CPM withdrew support to the UPA-1 government, the party ordered Chatterjee to step down from the post of Lok Sabha Speaker so he could vote against the government. His conduct of the proceedings of the House evoked widespread appreciation from a cross section of citizens from India and overseas.
A comrade to the core, he contended that as Speaker, he was above party politics. If he quit because the CPM told him to, the integrity of the Speaker's independent stature would be compromised. And so he was expelled by the CPM. Chatterjee held his silence initially. But finally spoke out to say “that was the saddest day of my life.”
His expulsion had caused differences within the party. Many wanted him brought back. As he lay in critical condition in hospital, there were loud if isolated demands within the party that he be given membership of the party once again. The demand was reflected in social media too by supporters of the party.
Born in Tezpur, Assam, in 1929, Somnath was educated at the Presidency College in Calcutta, at Jesus College in Cambridge, and after a Masters in Law from Cambridge University, he was called to the bar from Middle Temple in London.
In his long and illustrious career as an MP, Somnath Chatterjee adorned several parliamentary committees as chairman and as member. He served with distinction as Chairman, Committee on Subordinate Legislation and Standing Committee on Information Technology, Committee of Privileges, Committee on Railways, and Committee on Communications. He has been a member of the Rules Committee, General Purposes Committee, Business Advisory Committee and the Ethics Committee, to name a few.
As a barrister and as a senior lawyer, he brought his legal acumen to the sphere of legislation, both in the House and its committees. In 1996, he was conferred the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award by the Indian Parliamentary Group.
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