Best tribute to Somnath Chatterjee is to stand in firm defence of Constitution, says Manmohan Singh at memorial service

New Delhi: The best way to preserve the memory of Somnath Chatterjee is to "stand firm in defence" of constitutional democratic values, former prime minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday at an event here to pay tribute to the Communist veteran who passed away earlier this month.

Singh hailed Chatterjee as "a great son of India, a great parliamentarian, a great jurist and above all a person who was deeply steeped in preserving and protecting the constitutional democratic values in our times".

File image of Manmohan Singh. PTI

File image of Manmohan Singh. PTI

"For me, he was a father figure, a scholar, a great son of India, a great parliamentarian, a great jurist, whose memory needs to be preserved, protected. And the best way we can protect this is to stand firm in defence of the constitutional democratic values which are enshrined in our Constitution," the former prime minister told the gathering.

He also remembered the stand Chatterjee took when the UPA-I "got into difficulties" with the Left, which withdrew support and joined hands with the BJP to move a no-confidence motion against the government. "That was a very difficult time, when Somnath ji rose to the occasion to the highest constitutional values and he said 'I will protect the Constitution, I will protect the role of the Speaker. I love the party, but the party is not above these constitutional values'," Singh recalled.

Former vice president Hamid Ansari, speaking at the event, said the values of parliamentary democracy seemed to be under threat and the best tribute to the former Lok Sabha speaker would be to "dedicate ourselves to guarding the values he cherished". Describing Chatterjee as a "great son of Kolkata", Ansari said he was a man dedicated to the Constitution and constitutional values. "Dedicated not only to Parliament and parliamentary democracy in words, but in actual practice. These are values, as previous speakers have mentioned, (that) seem to be under threat. The principles of the Constitution, all summed up in one page, the first page, are subscribed to as a ritual rather than as something to be taken on as agenda of work to be implemented," Ansari spoke.

He further added,"The very idea of India tends to be questioned somewhat lightheartedly. I think the best tribute we can pay to him, is to dedicate ourselves to guarding the values he cherished, guarding the values of parliamentary democracy, in fact, not in words, parliamentary democracy as a guarantee to our freedoms, and the whole structure of constitutional values and constitutional institutions that have been put in place, which he cherished and served to the best of his abilities."

Singh said he has always believed that India needs strong growth to raise resources, which can then be redistributed, but that does not mean that social justice does not matter. "Inequalities in our country if they grow...they can be a disruptive force," he said, emphasising the need for a two-forked strategy of growth and social justice. He said his association with Chatterjee began in 1991, when he became the finance minister, but added that his association with Chatterjee's family started much before that.

Singh also narrated an anecdote about his time as a student at Hindu College in Amritsar when N C Chatterjee, father of Somnath Chatterjee, had came to deliver the convocation address. "He (N C Chatterjee) noticed that at the prize distribution function, I grabbed all the important prizes and he said, 'Young man I see a very bright career for you'.

Singh further added, "In 1991, when I became the finance minister, we had a fierce opposition from the CPI(M) in Parliament and Somnath ji was the leader of the parliamentary party at that time. He vehemently criticised the economic policies and the direction we were taking the country and I had the privilege of listening to him with great respect."

Singh said he had a number of discussions with Chatterjee and got the feeling that although the Communist veteran was under pressure from party hierarchy, he did recognise the compulsions under which he was working to take the country to a "somewhat different direction" than the Left wanted. "He (Chatterjee) conducted himself with great dignity and in any way that he could, he sought to strengthen the constitutional norm and the constitutional values," he narrated.

Congress leader and former Union minister S Jaipal Reddy said Chatterjee had seen the "threat from fascism" long time ago and there was a need to derive inspiration from his values of liberalism.

Tapan Kumar Sen of the CPI(M) and All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary Amarjit Kaur stated that the best tribute to Chatterjee would be to fight for the liberal democratic values that he espoused.

Several others associated with Chatterjee also paid their tributes to him at the event.

Chatterjee passed away at a private hospital in Kolkata following multiple organ failure on 13 August. He was 89.


Updated Date: Aug 29, 2018 14:00 PM

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