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Somnath Chatterjee passes away at 89: Expulsion from CPM was 'one of the saddest days' for the former Lok Sabha Speaker

Former Lok Sabha leader and CPM veteran Somnath Chatterjee passed away at a Kolkata hospital on Monday morning. In a 2017 interview with Caravan magazine, Chatterjee had told a journalist, “I shall die somewhat disappointed, somewhat disillusioned” since as a veteran face of Indian politics, Chatterjee had realised that the lack of able leadership in CPM was one of the reasons of its failure. He was also upset about the growing importance of religion in politics and the country.

Born in 1929 in Assam's Tezpur, Chatterjee grew up to be a prominent lawyer and nationalist during India's independence. 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 his expulsion. A 10-time Lok Sabha MP, Chatterjee was a central committee member of the CPM, which he had joined in 1968. He was the Speaker of the Lok Sabha from 2004 to 2009 during the UPA government. He was defeated only once in 1984 by Mamata Banerjee, who incidentally came to limelight with this win.

 Somnath Chatterjee passes away at 89: Expulsion from CPM was one of the saddest days for the former Lok Sabha Speaker

File image of Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee. Reuters

Chatterjee embarked on his journey into politics in 1968. He became a Member of the Lok Sabha in 1971 and the first time, he was elected as an independent candidate supported by the CPM. According to The Indian Express, during his stint as the Speaker, Chatterjee discontinued the practice of paying for toiletries and tea from the national exchequer and insisted on paying the expenses of any family members accompanying a minister on foreign trips.

It was on his initiative that proceedings of the Zero Hour were telecast live from 5 July, 2004. A full-fledged 24–hour Lok Sabha television channel also came into being in July 2006 during his tenure as Speaker.

In 2008, Chatterjee was expelled from the CPM for not resigning as the Speaker after continuous requests from members of his party. The same year, Chatterjee refused to vote against the government during the No-Confidence Motion. A close associate of Marxist leader Jyoti Basu, Chatterjee had gone onto say that the expulsion was “one of the saddest days” of his life and despite several requests from CPM leader Sitaram Yechury to rejoin the party, he did not find any reason to again apply for a membership. A year later, he retired from active politics.

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. He shared a close relationship with CPM 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.

On Monday morning, condolences began pouring in on Twitter with Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveying his condolences over the veteran politician's death.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi also grieved the loss while Congress tweeted from its handle condoling the death of "the tough but fair Lok Sabha speaker".

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said Chatterjee and she shared a very cordial relationship despite their ideological differences. He was principled and scholarly, and played a significant role in India's parliament, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said. Union minister Arun Jaitley said he will be remembered for his contributions which enriched Indian politics and was an outstanding Parliamentarian.

According to former finance minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, Chatterjee had through his life been a democrat, a liberal and a champion of enlarging the constituency for social democracy. NCP supremo Sharad Pawar said Chatterjee was a dignified person who set high standards of conduct during his stint as the Speaker of Lok Sabha. The passing away of "Somnath Da" is great loss for us all, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in her condolence message.

CPM leader Sitaram Yechury grieved the loss of the former party member and said, "Somnath Chatterjee was a firm defender of the foundations of Indian Constitution. In terms of parliamentary practices, his record is impeccable. We have also lost of champion of democracy."

Union minister Rajyavendra Rathore also expressed his condolences on Twitter. "Saddened by the demise of veteran parliamentarian and former speaker Somnath Chatterjee. He was respected across party lines and his contribution enriched Indian polity. Thoughts and prayers with his family," Rathore said.

Congress leaders Randeep Singh Surjewala and Milind Deora tweeted. While Surjewala wrote, "Deeply saddened by the passing away of Somnath Chatterjee ji. As a Speaker, he stood like a rock to defend our best Parliamentary traditions, elevated its office with utmost dignity, goodwill and bipartisanship. My heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and followers", Deora said,"Deeply saddened to learn that Somnath Chatterjee is no more. He was a dear family friend who I had the privilege to meet whenever he visited Mumbai. Somnath Chatterjee was one of the greats. The quintessential parliamentarian, he always made time to mentor us and will be missed."

JD(U) leader Lalu Prasad Yadav tweeted,"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Somnath Chatterjee Ji, former Lok Sabha Speaker, 10 times MP, widely respected and admired by all cutting across party lines. Have many fond memories of him as we shared a very cordial relationship. Our thoughts and prayers for bereaved family."

Congress leader Kapil Sibal conveyed his condolences over the 'legal stalwart's'death on Twitter. He wrote, "A great parliamentarian, a legal stalwart, a gentleman to the core committed to liberal values, Somnath Chatterjee, has left us. Very few like are born. May his soul rest in peace."

Mourning the loss of a "great Parliamentarian" Aam Admi Party tweeted that Chatterjee "will be remembered among the greatest Lok Sabha Speakers India ever had."

BJP chief Amit Shah on Monday condoled the death of former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, describing him as an excellent parliamentarian. Chatterjee, 89, passed away at a private hospital in Kolkata this morning following multiple organ failure. "Saddened to learn about the demise of Somnath Chatterjee, former Speaker of Lok Sabha," Shah tweeted. "He (Chatterjee) was an excellent Parliamentarian, whose long years as a member of the House, enriched our Parliamentary traditions. My condolences to his family and supporters in this hour of grief," Shah said.

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan told ANI, "Somnath Da (Chatterjee) was a big brother to me. Our ideology was different but still, from the time I entered Parliament in '89, I used to see how he used to raise issues while following every rule. His tenure as a speaker was a guidance for me."

Former vice-president M Hamid Ansari on Monday condoled the death of former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee, describing him as a remarkable human being and am eminent Parliamentarian. Chatterjee passed away at a private hospital in Kolkata this morning following multiple organ failure. "I express my deep distress over the passing away of Shri Somnath Chatterjee," Ansari said in a statement.

"He was a remarkable human being, an eminent parliamentarian and a very clear-headed speaker of the Lok Sabha. I convey my heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family," he said.

Meanwhile, reminiscing about how Chatterjee was an inspiration, Rajya Sabha deputy speaker Harivansh Narayan Singh said, "His role as Lok Sabha Speaker & his speeches as a Parliamentarian will be an inspiration for coming generations who wish to join politics. Today, when Parliament needs such man of inspiration, his loss is more disheartening."

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Aug 13, 2018 12:36:39 IST