Kolkata: An outstanding parliamentarian, Somnath Chatterjee was the first communist in the country to don the role of a Speaker. Chatterjee, who had been associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for most part of his life, leaves behind an imprint as one of the most illustrious speakers of the Lok Sabha.
His father N C Chatterjee was once president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha. Chatterjee was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha in 2004 during the UPA-I government. A close associate of Marxist leader Jyoti Basu, Chatterjee was expelled by the CPI(M) in 2008 for “seriously compromising the position of the party” when he refused to step down as the Speaker, a position which he believed was independent and unbiased.
After his party, then under the general secretaryship of Prakash Karat, withdrew support from the UPA government in July 2008, Chatterjee refused to step down from his position holding that the Speaker’s post is above any party politics.
Describing July 23, 2008 as “one of the saddest days of my life,” Chatterjee had said in a statement that, “The speaker of Lok Sabha, like the speakers of other elected assemblies, while acting as such does not and cannot represent any political party.”
It was on his initiative that proceedings of the Zero Hour were telecast live from July 5, 2004. A full-fledged 24-hour Lok Sabha television channel also came into being in July, 2006 during his tenure as speaker. Chatterjee was elected to the Lok Sabha 10 times on party ticket beginning in 1971 when he was elected as a CPI(M)-backed independent candidate to a seat in an interim election necessitated due to the death of his father.
He was defeated only once in 1984 by Mamata Banerjee, who incidentally came to limelight with this win. Chatterjee was the leader of the CPI(M) in Lok Sabha from 1989 to 2004. He was born at Tezpur in Assam on July 25, 1929, to N C Chatterjee, who was once president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, and Binapani Debi and was educated in Kolkata and the United Kingdom.
A Barrister-at-Law from Middle Temple in UK, Chatterjee was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for four decades from 1968 to 2008, till he was expelled in 2008. Conferred the “Outstanding Parliamentarian Award” in 1996, Chatterjee was known for his debating skills with extensive knowledge of national and international issues, delivered in his deep baritone voice, interspersed with wit and humour.
He adorned several parliamentary committees as chairman or as a member and was respected by leaders across the political arena. Chatterjee retired from active politics following the end of his tenure in 2009. He shared a close relation with CPI(M) stalwart Jyoti Basu who had also made him the chairman of West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC), trusting him with the responsibility to turn the state around in bringing in investments and starting new ventures. The lawyer-turned politician had acknowledged Basu’s role in guiding him, saying “he has always given me unstinted support and encouragement.” He is survived by wife Renu, a son and two daughters.