Out Speaker (25 Jul 2008)
Frustration from its debacle in the trust vote finally led CPI (M) to expel its senior leader and Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee. Signs were ominous ever since Chatterjee stood defiant against the demands for his resignation as Speaker by his party. While Chatterjee remained committed to his constitutional duty and insisted upon keeping the Speaker’s office above politics, his party was more desperate to bring the UPA government down at any cost.
Ironically, Chatterjee has emerged as one of the definitive heroes of the trust vote debate earlier this week. As Speaker, his conduct of the House’s proceedings earned widespread praise from MPs cutting across party lines. No other Lok Sabha Speaker in recent memory has been able to command a level of respect that he has enjoyed so far.
Those who have witnessed the House’s proceedings over the last few days can easily vouch for his candour and authority as the presiding officer of the House. He has been known as a stern disciplinarian, but all MPs have equally respected him for his impartiality. So great is his stature that despite his belonging to a party in opposition, the treasury benches had full faith in him. Nobody wanted him to step down, except his own party.
Chatterjee had earned this credibility over a long tenure as a parliamentarian. As a 10 term MP, he has a distinguished and unblemished record. I first witnessed his oratorical flourishes in 1985, when he was voice of opposition. Together with Indrajit Gupta, Chatterjee was the main face of Left front back then and they both were renowned for their critical speeches on many important debates in the House. Chatterjee had come to hold several important positions of office and he was conferred with the Outstanding Parliamentarian award in 1996. Not surprisingly, Chatterjee was a rare unanimous choice for the Speaker’s post when the UPA government was formed.
Now that his tenure as Speaker is about to end soon, Chatterjee is set to leave a lasting legacy that will be hard to match for his successors. He has set many noteworthy precedents for the efficient functioning of Parliament and I hope that the current and future generations of MPs will take due inspiration from his conduct in the House.