Comrade Somnath says communism no party’s monopoly


New Delhi : Communism is not the “monopoly” of any political party, veteran Left leader and always the “comrade” Somnath Chatterjee asserted Friday, a day after he laid down office as Lok Sabha speaker and bid adieu to a four-decade career in politics.

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“Communism is no party’s monopoly. I am still a communist,” a relaxed Chatterjee, who was expelled from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) for defying a diktat to step down ahead of a trust vote in parliament in July last year, told reporters here.

Asked about his expulsion, he sighed: “I felt very bad and it was one of the saddest days in my life.”

To a question if he was still a comrade, he laughed and told the questioner: “Even you are a comrade!”

The CPI-M expelled Chatterjee after he refused to step down as speaker following the Left withdrawal of support to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led government over the India-US nuclear deal, prompting the July 22, 2008 trust vote in the Lok Sabha.

“Once you become a speaker, you must dissociate yourself from the party,” he added, reiterating a point he made during his farewell address in the Lok Sabha Thursday that the speaker’s office was above party politics.

In reply to a question on whether ever he would contest an election, he replied: “I had said that I should go into sanyas (retirement) much before the incident (the expulsion) which you refer to.”

Pointedly asked if he would have contested the coming Lok Sabha elections if his Bolpur constituency in West Bengal had not been placed in the category reserved for Scheduled Castes, he retorted: “I had said that I would not contest any election.”

Discussing his experiences as speaker, Chatterjee was unhappy over the frequent disruptions of the house but said the house had been doing its duty despite these “aberrations”.

“I have two regrets; that cash was brought into parliament, even though I was not present, and I am unhappy that the parliament did not function properly.”

Holding that MPs should participate in the progress of the country, he said: “I appeal to the good people to join politics to change it.”

Chatterjee, who was at times accused of acting like a headmaster in the house, said the conduct of the MPs pained him.

“You know, I have been misunderstood many times, but the glory of the institution needs to be maintained.”

He also expressed his sorrow that a bill to reserve one-third of seats in parliament and state legislatures for women could not passed during his tenure.

Chatterjee lamented that the issue of farmers suicides was not adequately discussed in the house.

“There was never any discussion about farmers committing suicide. No effort was made to treat it as a national issue. Committing suicide is matter of national shame to me. Every issue is made political and confrontational in the country.”

Replying to a question, he said: “I have already advised that a commission should be set up to decide the terms and conditions and remunerations of MPs.”

He went on: “India is unique in three things; one is we have a television channel which is completely operated by parliament, second judges appoint judges, and MPs fix their own salaries.”