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Somnath rules out quitting office

The Lok Sabha Speaker today ruled out quitting and hit out at CPI-M for demanding his resignation saying it cannot give any direction to him in his Constitutional office.

india Updated: Aug 01, 2008 21:59 IST

Breaking his silence, Lok Somnath Chatterjee today ruled out quitting and hit out at CPI-M for demanding his resignation saying it cannot give any direction to him in his Constitutional office.

"I have consciously taken the principled decision to uphold the Constitution of India at the risk of being unjustifiably dubbed as anti-party," he said in a five-page statement making it clear he would continue to "fulfil my obligations and responsibilities as the Speaker during my tenure".

Calling July 23, the day of his expulsion from CPI-M, as "one of the saddest day of his life", Chatterjee said it was a "canard" to allege that his continuance in the post was to help any party or parties or "on some other personal considerations".

"I strongly and categorically deny these wholly baseless allegations," he said in the statement which also traces the events ever since the Left parties decided to withdraw support to the UPA government and sections within the party asking him to resign.

The Speaker contended that the party could not direct him to resign and vote against the government as it would "seriously compromise" the Constitutional position of the Speaker.

Asserting that he had scrupulously kept himself away from all political activities whatsoever, Chatterjee suggested that in view of the controversies now being raised, a member should temporarily resign from the party during his tenure as Speaker and not face a situation which compromises the position of the Speaker vis-a-vis his party.

Recalling the developments in the run-up to the July 22 trust vote in the Lok Sabha, he said on Jul six when the CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat met him to explain generally the party's stand on the Indo-US nuclear deal, he was told that the party had not discussed any matter regarding the Speaker.

On the morning of July nine, Karat telephonically conveyed to him that a section of the party felt that his continuance as Speaker may be untenable. However, it was stated the final decision would be left to him.

On the same day, Chatterjee said he was surprised to learn from the media that his name was mentioned in the communication to the President on the withdrawal of support "without any intimation to or any discussion with me".

Chatterjee said till today he has not seen nor has been shown any copy of the communication sent by the party to the President. Significantly, at the press conference held after the leaders of different Left parties met the President, Karat categorically reiterated that it was for the Speaker himself to decide his course of action.

"In the computation of the strength of either the ruling party or its allies or of the opposition, no responsible person or authority can treat the Speaker as belonging to or extending support either to the government or its allies or to the opposition.

"Thus, the question of the Speaker withdrawing support to the Government can never arise. It is only the House as a whole which can decide whether the Speaker should continue to remain as such or not, apart from his/her own decision to relinquish, if there is any such occasion," he said.

On July 10, Chatterjee said he had issued a statement that as Speaker, he did not represent any political party in the discharge his duties and functions nor he owed any allegiance to any political party. He had also said that his election was not only uncontested but was also unanimous and that he was not elected as the nominee of any party.

He recalled that on several occasions after July nine, Karat and several important members of the party reiterated that as Speaker it was for him alone to decide on his stand in the matter.

Chatterjee cited statements made by Karat on July 14 and July 17 in which he had said that by holding the post of the Speaker, a person does not cease to have political affiliations but he should not indulge in party activities or adopt partisan political positions.

Chatterjee said he had assumed on that basis no whip was issued to him, as in fact, it could not be.

On July 20, for the first time, he was verbally told by a member of the politburo that it was the decision of the party that he should resign and vote against the motion.

"And when I refused, subsequently it was suggested that I should resign as Speaker and may not attend the House to cast my note. I informed him of my inability to accept such decision or act upon the same as it will seriously compromise the Constitutional position of the Speaker.

"The party should have appreciated that as Speaker I did not represent it nor could it at all give any direction to me with regard to the discharge of my functions as Speaker. I reiterate this with all the emphasis at my command," he said.

The Speaker said during his four decades in Parliament he had tried his best to discharge his functions true to Parliamentary traditions.

"With that experience and opportunity....I could not and cannot in my conscience accept a position which would totally compromise the sanctity of the most important legislative office in the country.

"After laying the pros and cons, I have consciously taken the principled position to uphold the Constitution of India at the risk of being unjustifiably dubbed as anti-party," he said.

He said long before the controversy had arisen, he had declared openly his intention not to contest any further elections and to devote the remaining period of his life to the service of the people.

Thanking people from various parts of the country and abroad for the "overwhelming support" to him, Chatterjee said "such responses which I find unprecedented, emphasise the people's desire that the Parliament should function properly and discharge its role in a serious and responsible manner and give me renewed strength to continue to fulfil my obligations and responsibilities as the Speaker during my tenure."

He said the expulsion has meant cessation of his long association with the party and recalled that the day when soon after his election in 1971 to Lok Sabha as an independent candidate with CPI-M support, he could not refuse late comrade Pramod Dasgupta's call to him to join the party.

"I gratefully acknowledge the role of the party for giving me so many opportunities and onerous responsibilities to discharge and in that I have received from the party and the senior leaders and in particular from our great leader comrade Jyoti Basu, who has always given me unstinted support and encouragement," he said.

Chatterjee recalled that when he was elected as Speaker on June 4, 2004, he had said in the House that he shall discharge functions entrusted to his office more as a duty than as an authority.

"The non-party character of the office of the Speaker in our Parliamentary polity places on me a special obligation to be totally non-partisan and judicious while regulating the proceedings of the House.

"So long as I occupy this exalted chair, I assure you that I shall always strive to protect to the best of my ability the rights and privileges of the House and of its members irrespective of their political affiliations," he said adding he had always sincerely tried to do this.