Former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee dies in Kolkata hospital
Former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee died in a Kolkata hospital on Monday morning, days after he was admitted with a kidney ailment. He was 89.
Chatterjee was admitted to Belle Vue Clinic on June 28. He was discharged on August 5 but taken to the hospital again on August 9, when a dialysis was performed on him. He was put on ventilation on Friday.
A 10-time member of the Lok Sabha, Chatterjee was one of the most respected parliamentarians of the country.
President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in mourning the death of Somnath Chatterjee.
“Sorry to hear of the passing of Somnath Chatterjee, former Speaker of the Lok Sabha and a veteran parliamentarian who had a forceful presence in the House. A loss for public life in Bengal and India. My condolences to his family and innumerable well-wishers,” the President said in a tweet.
Prime Minister Modi described Chatterjee as a stalwart of Indian politics who he said made the parliamentary democracy richer.
Modi tweeted that Chatterjee “was a strong voice for the well-being of the poor and vulnerable. Anguished by his demise. My thoughts are with his family and supporters”.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee called the death of Chatterjee a great loss.
“Saddened at the passing away of Somnath-Da. My condolences to his family and admirers. This is a great loss for us,” the Trinamool Congress chief tweeted.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi also mourned Somnath Chatterjee’s death in his tweet.
“He was an institution. Greatly respected and admired by all parliamentarians, across party lines. My condolences to his family at this time of grief,” Gandhi said.
The son of barrister Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, a prominent parliamentarian of the Hindu Mahasabha – the ideological forerunner of Bharatiya Janata Party, Chatterjee joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1968 and remained a member till 2008.
Chatterjee first contested for and won the Lok Sabha election in 1971 from Burdwan constituency, a seat that fell vacant after the incumbent, his father, died that year. He went on to win nine more elections to the Lower House, the last in 2004.
He was first elected as the member of Parliament in 1977 in the Lok Sabha from Jadavpur constituency and reelected in 1980. In 1984, he was defeated by Mamata Banerjee, then a 29-year-old Congress worker.
From a byelection in 1985 to 2005, he won seven consecutive polls from Bolpur constituency in Birbhum district. He won the Outstanding Parliamentarian award in 1994.
Somnath Chatterjee’s ties with the CPI(M) were severed dramatically on July 23, 2008, when the party issued a statement expelling him on grounds of “seriously compromising the position of the party”. Chatterjee was a central committee member then.
In a politburo meeting where the expulsion decision was ratified, everybody except Sitaram Yechuri supported his exit. However, none of the politburo members from West Bengal such as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose were present in the meeting.
The decision came after he refused to toe the diktat of the party and resign as the speaker of the Lok Sabha when the Left party decided to withdraw its support to the United Progressive Alliance I government led by Manmohan Singh over the signing of the India-US nuclear agreement.
It was during his term as the speaker of the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-2009) that DD Lok Sabha was replaced by Lok Sabha TV, a step that was recognised as a step in increasing transparency of Parliament.
A section of the CPI(M) also felt that Chatterjee was one of the serious alternatives to take over as the chief minister of West Bengal after Jyoti Basu stepped down in November 2000 after a 23-year term.
Chatterjee also had made a contribution to West Bengal’s transition from a state in the grip of obstructionist policies to one earnestly seeking private investment to increase employment opportunities and overall development.
As the chairman, he piloted the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation for about 10 years from 1994, when former chief minister Jyoti Basu began inviting private investments.
Somnath Chatterjee was close to Basu and led the thrust of the veteran communist leader to transform the state that suffered a strong anti-investor image due to years of ‘naysayer’ politics.
In June 2011, just about a month after assuming charge in West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee sent Partha Chatterjee, then the industry minister, to take Chatterjee’s advice on how to take the state forward in the path of development.
An archetypal ‘bhadralok’, Chatterjee obtained a degree in law from Middle Temple in London. He was born in Assam’s Tezpur and educated at Kolkata’s Presidency College before moving to Cambridge.
Chatterjee is survived by wife Renu, son Pratap,who is a lawyer, and daughter Anushila.