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Somnath Chatterjee’s death brings Left’s internal differences to the fore

While the CPI(M) politburo referred to late Somnath Chatterjee as a veteran parliamentarian, eminent lawyer, former Speaker and ten-time member of the Lok Sabha, the Bengal unit referred to him as a “comrade” and “former central committee member and Lok Sabha MP of the CPI(M)”.

india Updated: Aug 14, 2018 15:58 IST
Tanmay Chatterjee
Tanmay Chatterjee
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Somnath Chatterjee,Left front,Prakash Karat
In 2008, the CPI(M) top brass had asked Somnath Chatterjee to resign from the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post and vote against the UPA government in the trust vote. When he refused to comply, the party, then under the leadership of Prakash Karat, expelled him for life.(Samir Jana/HT File Photo)

The death of ten-time Lok Sabha member and former speaker Somnath Chatterjee on Monday brought to forefront the differences between the West Bengal unit and central leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), from which he was expelled a decade ago.

In 2008, the CPI(M) brass had asked Chatterjee to resign from the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post and vote against the UPA government in the trust vote. When he refused to comply, the party, then under the leadership of Prakash Karat, expelled him for life.

On the CPI(M)’s website, the party’s politburo posted a press release after Chatterjee’s death in which he was referred to as a veteran parliamentarian, eminent lawyer, former Speaker and ten-time member of the Lok Sabha. It did not say which party he belonged to.

The press release was placed next to the link “related article: Somnath Chatterjee’s false assertions” that was posted in 2010, accusing Chatterjee of making “false statements” regarding his expulsion.

In contrast, the Bengal unit postponed the scheduled meeting of its state committee after paying homage to Chatterjee and issued a statement that referred to him as a “comrade” and “former central committee member and Lok Sabha MP of the CPI(M)”.

On its part, Chatterjee’s family refused to let Bengal CPI(M) wrap his body in the party flag.

“I don’t know what the politburo has said in its statement. The Bengal state committee has paid its tributes. Somnath Chatterjee was much above the internal matters of the CPI(M),” CPI(M) Bengal secretary Suryakanta Mishra said.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, CPI(M) leaders said the party brass’ failure to bring Chatterjee back into the Left fold played a key role in alienating many of their voters.

“Our vote share in the assembly polls slipped from 30.08% in 2011 to 19.75% in 2016... Today our image took a serious blow,” a senior Bengal state committee leader said on condition of anonymity.

“In a way it was good that my father was expelled. Had he been in the party today, the state of the CPI(M) would have only given him immense pain,” Anushila Basu, Chatterjee’s daughter said.

First Published: Aug 13, 2018 23:38 IST