Why Somnath Chatterjee should not leave his post?
Once elected as the Speaker of the House, he ceases to function as a member of the party to which he belonged and becomes the spokesman and representative of the House until the term of Parliament ends, opines T.R. Andhyarujina.india Updated: Jul 21, 2008 00:07 IST
The pressure put on Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee by the CPI(M) to resign, so that he may vote as an MP with the CPI(M) in the crucial vote of confidence against the UPA government, violates all parliamentary conventions and traditions relating to the Speaker. Once elected as the Speaker of the House, he ceases to function as a member of the party to which he belonged and becomes the spokesman and representative of the House until the term of Parliament ends. He can be removed from his office only by a majority resolution passed by the House. No party has a right to call upon its member, who has been appointed a Speaker, to resign, as once elected he is not the servant of any party but of the House alone. Also, no party has a right to consider the Speaker as its member in the functioning of the House.
In the first place, it was improper on the part of the Left parties to put Chatterjee’s name in the list that was presented to the President, of Left MPs who withdrew support to the government, without so much as consulting him. By this action itself the Left parties stripped the Speaker of his traditional neutrality and independence. Thereafter, to put pressure on Chatterjee to resign as Speaker further compounded the breach of parliamentary traditions and conventions. The CPI(M) seems to be ignorant of the independent position of the Speaker in Parliament as a representative of no party and only of the House for which he speaks.
The Speaker’s office can be traced back in history to that of the Speaker of the British House of Commons in its historic struggle for parliamentary supremacy against the monarch. When King Charles I barged into the House and demanded the surrender of the five members opposed to his policies, the Speaker William Lenthall refused, saying, “I have neither eyes nor tongue to speak in their place but as the House is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here.”
On his appointment the Speaker relinquishes all party allegiance and is withdrawn from all party meetings and does not debate party issues. The former British Speaker George Thomas wrote, “For the past two centuries the House has expected the Speaker to abandon all party loyalties and to be outside the battle in the Chamber.”
Somnath Chatterjee created history when, as a Member of Parliament from the non-government ranks, he was unanimously elected Speaker by all sections of the House on June 4, 2004. During the four years of his presiding over the House he has conducted the proceedings with remarkable dignity and fairness. From the inception he has been forthright
in the failure of members of the House to maintain decorum and dignity. He redeemed the reputation of Parliament when he called for the expulsion of ten members who betrayed the trust of Parliament by taking cash for asking questions. He has been
an ardent spokesman and defender of Parliament’s privileges, and an informed critic of judicial excesses regarding interference in the working of the legislature. He has won the confidence of all sections of the House and the public as Speaker. It is ironical that the finest Speaker of our times should be so ignominiously treated by his own party, the CPI(M), for its own partisan aim.
In the interest of maintaining healthy parliamentary conventions, Somnath Chatterjee must remain in office.
T.R. Andhyarujina is a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court and former Solicitor-General of India