Expelled on Wednesday "for seriously compromising the position of the party", Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP from Bolpur in West Bengal, Somnath Chatterjee, will remain both an MP and Speaker of the Indian House of the People.
<b1>Chatterjee, the first communist Lok Sabha Speaker — he turns 79 on Friday — refused comment on the decision of the CPM to end his 40-year membership. He received immediate political support from the ruling alliance.
The Congress, SP and RJD said Chatterjee should continue. He attended office on Wednesday and is expected to investigate how three BJP MPs brought in and waved wads of Rs 1,000 notes in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. He will also look into bribery charges these MPs levelled against the UPA.
"Once a speaker is elected, he can be removed from his post only by a motion moved in the House," former law minister and senior Supreme Court lawyer, Shanti Bhushan said, "Misguided individual decisions of parties don’t matter."
Nearly six hours after it met on Wednesday morning, the politburo announced Chatterjee’s expulsion "with immediate effect." The party top brass did not go through the usual routine of disciplinary action against Chatterjee: serving a notice or censuring him.
The Politburo in its statement cited a special provision of the party’s constitution and said it had acted against Chatterjee "for seriously compromising the position of the party." Article 19, Clause 13, of the CPM’s constitution says the party committees can straightaway expel a member in exceptional circumstances "for grave anti-party activities."
Chatterjee, the first Speaker in Lok Sabha’s history to be expelled by his own party while in office, had refused to resign after CPM withdrew support to the UPA government on July 9. It even included his name in the list of MPs handed over to the President. Sources said it was discussed in the politburo meeting that Chatterjee had "targeted comrades during the two-day debate leading to the trust vote".
The anger against Chatterjee, which was simmering since July 9, came out in the open after the expulsion with Kerala Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan — himself suspended from the Politburo last year for indiscipline — calling Chatterjee a traitor. "He stabbed the party in the back," said Vijayan. "He threw party discipline to the winds. No doubt, he will go down in the history as a traitor."
Chatterjee, who rose to the position of a Central Committee member in the party, does not enjoy the best of relations with CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat. He had conveyed his displeasure to party patriarch Jyoti Basu and West Bengal CPM secretary Biman Bose on the way central leaders undermined his position by directing him to fall in line "like a party newcomer," sources said. He is expected to speak out soon on many issues, including his relations with General Secretary Prakash Karat and the party’s decision to veto a proposal to elect him to the vice-president’s post in 2007.
Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natrajan said though the expulsion is the CPM's internal matter, Chatterjee is not affiliated to any party “once he is Speaker. I don’t see any problem in his continuing in the post."
(With inputs from Jatin Gandhi, Nagendar Sharma and Ramesh Babu in Thiruvananthapuram)