May 14, 1996, at the CPI(M) central committee meeting: Majority voted against Jyoti Basu becoming Prime Minister of the United Front and the party’s chance to run government at the Centre.
Fourteen years later — on July 19 — the same apparatchiks will look for ways to handle a new hot potato: Basu’s follower and Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee.
However, as in 1996, the official agenda will be to discuss the present political situation.
Even as a section of the media started claiming that the Bolpur MP would resign from the party after the UPA faces the trust vote, CPI(M) sources said there had been no such feeler from the Speaker.
“The report seems to have been planted by someone to complicate matters before the central committee meeting. But if Chatterjee really leaves the party then he could technically continue as Speaker in the capacity of an MP without affiliation. After all he was the unanimous choice of all the 18 parties in Parliament,” a senior state committee member said.
Bengal secretary Biman Bose, who returned from London on Wednesday, avoided the media. Sources said he called up Karat to take stock of the situation and iterated that since the party had followed the collective decision to withdraw support from the UPA, it should prepare for the showdown in Parliament.
He also informed Karat that Bengal Transport Minister Subhas Chakraborty has been asked to explain why he defended Chatterjee before the media and questioned the party’s decision.
Till this evening senior leaders in the party’s Bengal unit had no clue how to deal with Chatterjee without causing further embarrassment to the organisation. But most agreed that the situation was fast approaching a point of no return.
“Although made in reference to news reports, Politburo member Sitaram Yechury made the party’s stand very clear today when he said the Speaker’s name should be included in the list of MPs submitted to the President as he was elected a CPI(M) candidate.
In the past leaders like Saifuddin Chaudhury and Nripen Chakraborty were expelled for going against the party line. For the central committee it will not be easy to reach a consensus on Chatterjee,” said a senior leader.