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Loudspeaker

In his new memoirs, Somnath Chatterjee lashes out at the CPI(M), Prakash Karat and the Left's decision to withdraw support to the UPA.

books Updated: Jul 30, 2010 22:06 IST

Keeping the Faith: Memoirs of a Parliamentarian
Somnath Chatterjee
HarperCollins Rs 499 pp 408

Prakash Karat met me at my residence a few days after the party had decided to withdraw its support to the UPA government but before it had announced it to the public. He said that he felt insulted and betrayed by what he called the failure of the Prime Minister and the chairperson, UPA, to keep the promise stated to have been made to him that he would be consulted before the government made any progress on the Indo-US nuclear deal. Because of what he called breach of promise, the party, according to him, had no option but to break with the UPA…

…As Speaker I remained completely detached from the party and all political disputes and controversies. I never made any comment on the merits or otherwise of the issues on which the Left opposed any proposal or decision of the government. And whether their stand was justified or not. But the common perception, as expressed in many quarters, was that the Left leaders were wielding the real authority without being in the government and had thus arrogated to themselves de facto powers of governance without any corresponding accountability and had also become arbiters of the government's survival.

Thus, Left leaders like Karat, A B Bardhan and others came to acquire a larger-than-life image and influence in the governance of country. Too much proximity to the Prime Minister and the UPA chairperson and the accommodative attitude of the government towards Karat and other Left leaders gave the latter the belief, if not the conviction, that their decisions would be the last word for the government and that diktats would inevitably be followed.

Thus, they forgot their true strength in the House or even in the country and wanted their decisions to be treated as final and non-negotiable. The party gave the unpalatable impression that the UPA government could survive only with the blessings of the party's leaders, primarily of its general secretary, Prakash Karat. Needless to say, the common man took this to be nothing but unjustified arrogance on their part.

As a member of the party who, until his election as Speaker, had actively participated in its affairs, I felt I should bring my views in the matter, for whatever they were worth, to the notice of the general secretary and others. On 27 June 2008, I conveyed in the note to Karat, through one of the comrades in the party, my views on the political situation and what would be the most appropriate stand for the party to take in the national interest.

I had suggested that the party should continue to oppose the deal since it felt so strongly about the issue. I proposed that the party take steps to rouse public opinion against the deal. No government could defy strong public opinion. I expressed my apprehension that an early election, as was likely in case the party withdrew its support, would create a difficult situation for the party.

I was afraid that the electoral results might be disappointing, specially in West Bengal, where the party had only a few months back suffered major reverses in the Panchayat elections — for the first time since 1978. I felt that in the circumstances then prevailing, it would be prudent to consolidate the party's strength and activities in West Bengal and Kerala and oppose the nuclear deal as best as it would, while continuing to support the UPA from outside. I felt that the most effective way for the party to deal with the issue would be to educate the people and the political spectrum as a whole about what it felt would be the dangerous consequences that would beset the country if the deal was operationalised.

Clearly, the party leadership under Karat did not think my views even worth considering. The party's efforts, if any, met with abysmal failure….

… I feel that the supposed 'affront' to Karat by the Prime Minister and UPA chairperson had upset him so much that he did not or could not objectively consider the consequences of his decision to withdraw support to the government. It also resulted in his taking a wholly inconsistent and rather insincere attitude towards me as the Speaker. On 9 July 2008, Karat stated in the press conference after meeting the President regarding the withdrawal of support that it was for the Speaker to decide his course of action — a stand he categorically repeated as late as on 18 July 2008.

Suddenly, on 20 July 2008, he took a wholly contrary decision, clearly proving that he did not care whether his action was a principled and sincere one or not. Significantly enough, he has never explained the reasons for his volte-face. That his arrogance and intolerance had reached a peak was clearly demonstrated by the fact that he decided to expel me summarily, without even a show-cause notice. That anyone in the party could defy his diktat was inconceivable to him!

When Karat met me after deciding to withdraw support, he did not even mention my note to him on the present political situation and only stated that the party had taken the decision to withdraw support. Of course, he knew my views by then and met me probably to find out my reaction to the proposed withdrawal. During that meeting, Karat categorically told me that the party had not even discussed the matter regarding my position as Speaker.

On 8 July 2008, Pranab Mukherjee met and informed me that it was likely that after the Left parties withdrew support, the President would recommend that the government initiate a vote of confidence. For this, he informed me, the government might convene a special session on 21 and 22 July 2008. If the government survived, the monsoon session would be convened from 11 August 2008.

The Left parties met the President on 9 July 2008 to apprise her about the withdrawal of support and requested her to either dismiss the government or direct it to submit to a vote of confidence in the House. That morning, Karat rang me to convey that members of the Politburo who were in Delhi, including some comrades from West Bengal, were of the view that in the prevailing circumstances my continuance as Speaker would be 'untenable' and that I should decide my own course of action.

On the same day, I sent a note to Karat with my views on some of the issues he described as 'untenable' and suggested a few alternate courses of action. But there was neither any acknowledgement nor any response to my views, thus indicating that he did not find the same worth taking note of. Apart from that, Karat never tried to contact me.

Later in the day, I came to know that in the list of CPI(M) members withdrawing support to the government, which was submitted to the President, my name was mentioned first. I was shocked! Strangely, till today I have not been shown a copy of this letter.

This is an edited extract from Keeping The Faith: Memoirs Of A Parliamentarian (HarperCollins)