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Somnath refuses to speak his mind

With the CPM formally withdrawing support to the UPA, there is a question mark over Somnath Chatterjee’s continuance as Lok Sabha Speaker. A report by Saroj Nagi & Jatin Gandhi.

india Updated: Jul 10, 2008 01:32 IST
Saroj Nagi & Jatin Gandhi

With the CPM formally withdrawing support to the UPA, there is a question mark over Somnath Chatterjee’s continuance as Lok Sabha Speaker. The veteran leader, whose name figures in the list of MPs the CPM gave President Pratibha Patil, declined to comment whether he would resign. “I am the Speaker…,” he said to a query.

If Chatterjee quits, the Congress may fill the slot with Kishore Chandra Deo, its MP from Andhra Pradesh who also heads the Lok Sabha's Privileges Committee. But any decision in this regard would be taken in consultation with other UPA partners.

Should Chatterjee step down before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh takes a vote of confidence in the House, Deputy Speaker and Akali Dal leader CS Atwal would preside over the proceedings.

Sources said that election of the new Speaker is unlikely to be on the government’s immediate agenda even if there is a vacancy. “As the presiding officer’s election is a test of the government’s majority, this would make the vote of confidence infructuous. Following the Left withdrawal of support on the nuclear issue, every party would want to use the debate on the confidence motion to put on record its stand on the deal,” said a Congress leader.

Asked about Chatterjee’s fate, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said it was for the veteran leader to decide. “I am sure the Speaker will decide on his own taking into account all the circumstances,” he said.

Sources however said that Karat, CPI’s AB Bardhan and Chatterjee had a meeting in Kolkata on July 5 where it was decided that the latter would resign as Speaker after the Left withdraws support.

The Congress, on its part, said it does not want Chatterjee to quit. “We haven’t directly or indirectly conveyed that we want him to resign. We will not initiate any step to make him step down,” said Veerappa Moily, media department chairman. The party criticised Karat’s move of including Chatterjee’s name in the list of MPs he handed to the President. “The CPM’s action is in tune with its disregard of parliamentary tradition and is tantamount to denigrating the Speaker’s office. It will be a sad day for parliamentary democracy if they are seeking to create conditions in which he feels constrained to resign. The Speaker’s loyalty is to the institution and the high office he holds definitely stands higher than his loyalty to his party,” said Devendra Dwivedy, senior Congress leader and former additional solicitor general of India.