When Lok sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee was nominated as a consensus candidate in 2004, many of us wondered whether the veteran CPI(M) leader was the right man for the job. After all, however non-partisan the job description of the post might be, many found it easy to suspect that Speakers are not the objective, unbiased beings that they are supposed to be. To make matters even more suspicious, the Left was never a group of political parties to have leaders hiding their ideological affinities, no matter what the ‘non-executive’ post. But in his four years on the high chair, Mr Chatterjee surprised us all. Not only was he a non-partisan Lok Sabha Speaker, but he was refreshingly and pro-actively a ‘non-party’ man.
Unfortunately, unlike Mr Chatterjee, his comrades in the Left have not been able to separate his two identities that he himself had faithfully kept apart. Under pressure from the Left, Mr Chatterjee may be forced to relinquish his 'day job' that he had been conducting with relish and success. In the next few days, the Left will insist that Mr Chatterjee walked away from the post of his own will.
The media will be tut-tutted for making pointless speculations about the Speaker’s departure. But the fact that Mr Chatterjee himself believed that the Speaker's role should not be hitched to any party allegiance and that he was impervious to such pulls and pushes came out last week when a statement was issued from his office which made the same points about the Speaker necessarily being non-partisan.
The trust vote scheduled for July 22 and the preceding falling out between the Left and the UPA could have been the ideal opportunity for the non-partisan role of the Speaker to be advertised. Also, it could have helped the Left to show everyone else that its understanding of parliamentary democracy is not confined to party politics. But with Mr Chatterjee’s ‘stepping down’ imminent, the old ‘suspicions’ have been reinforced. Which is a pity.