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CPI-M wants speaker to quit, Chatterjee unwilling

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), determined to oust Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government over the India-US nuclear deal is in a spot.
By HT Correspondent | IANS, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 14, 2008 04:51 PM IST

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), determined to oust Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government over the India-US nuclear deal, is in a spot, thanks to Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee's refusal to quit his post, party sources say.

Although the CPI-M has hinted amply that Chatterjee should quit the speaker's post after the Left withdrew its legislative support to the Congress-led government, Chatterjee is no mood to give up the post, the sources said.

However, the CPI-M has been maintaining that the decision was left to Chatterjee himself.

"Any decision (on the speaker's post) will be taken by the speaker himself," CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat said in a statement. "We do not want the office of the speaker being dragged into any unnecessary controversy," Karat said, referring to the media reports about Chatterjee's possible resignation.

Chatterjee, a CPI-M MP from Bolpur in West Bengal, was elected the speaker as a part of CPI-M-led Left parties' understanding with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2004.

When it decided to withdraw its support, the CPI-M leadership conveyed to Chatterjee that the party wanted him to put in his papers, the sources said. But Chatterjee, who will turn 79 on July 25, is believed to have argued that such a move would cast a shadow on the speaker's office as it is above party politics.

However, the CPI-M leadership feels that Chatterjee's resignation was vital in emphasizing the party's opposition to the government's stance on the contentious nuclear deal and to put the government into a crisis.

Once Chatterjee resigns, the UPA government will be forced to elect a new speaker. The Congress, which is struggling to prove its majority in the July 22 trust vote, prefers Chatterjee continuing as speaker.

"If Chatterjee resigns, we will have to spare one more member to be the speaker (who does not use his casting vote unless there is a tie)," said a senior Congress leader.

The CPI-M sources said the party leadership had also conveyed its decision to Chatterjee through Communist veteran Jyoti Basu, whom the speaker met Sunday. According to some CPI-M leaders, Chatterjee told Basu that he would resign his Lok Sabha membership also if he had to quit the speaker's post.

However, Basu, Chatterjee's political mentor, apparently advised him to give up the speaker's post as his continuance will give an impression that there were divisions in the CPI-M over its withdrawal of support.

CPI-M leaders here insisted that Chatterjee should resign but admitted that there were no indications from his side that he would do so and when.

"The party wanted him to take the appropriate decision after assessing the situation. Nobody should remind him what is proper for a CPI-M MP, who has been a comrade for decades," said a senior CPI-M leader.

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