Monday, July 21, 2008

Somnath: Is it a moral or a personal issue?/Mail Today, Jul 21, 2008

LIKE any other member of Parliament, the Speaker is elected on a political ticket but he/she is different from a mere MP. But not entirely, it would seem. Somnath Chatterjee is among the finest to have occupied the high office. But now towards the fag end of his illustrious career both as a parliamentarian as well as a barrister, Chatterjee finds himself embroiled in a controversy that is entirely of his own making. On the day that it was announced that the government would seek the trust vote, Chatterjee’s office issued a press statement underlining the impartiality and the independence of the office of Speaker. Nobody questions the contents of the statement which were entirely in order. It is the timing that led to rumours of a possible rift between this committed Marxist and his party comrades. Chatterjee may have been livid with his party for including his name in the support withdrawal list given to the president, which made a mockery of the concept of the speaker’s independence. But he tied himself up in knots by later writing to Prakash Karat that he will not vote with the BJP, an argument that is hardly convincing since twice in the past, the last being in 1993, as a CPI(M) MP he had joined the BJP in voting against the Narasimha Rao government. This has led to speculation whether Chatterjee is being guided by the personal relations he shares with Manmohan Singh. Whenever the two meet, the prime minister never tires of reminding the speaker that it was from his father, the late NC Chatterjee, lawyer, parliamentarian and one time Hindu Mahasabha leader, that he received his bachelor’s degree. Chatterjee is too seasoned a politician to be swayed by such trivia, but when you are 79 and nearing the end of a long career, even dyed-in-the-wool Marxists may be tempted to make their own choices.

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