Somnath Chattopadhyaya

Somnath Chattopapdhyay passed away at a time when the country needed him most to retain its democratic and secular constitution and polity, to resist the onslaughts on the sovereignty of Parliament. As a Speaker of the Lok Sabha he was very fair and gave more scope to the Opposition members as he knew that the highest tribune of the people should give more scope to the Opposition than the Treasury benches. A gentleman to a fault, his courtesy and dignified deportment was exemplary. As Chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation he would ask even a clerk to do something by saying “Would you do me a favour?”  He was a leader of the CPM but when he became Speaker, he maintained the dignity of his office and refused to oblige party ‘leaders’, who were pigmies compared to his stature, asked him to resign because the party had decided to withdraw its support to the UPA Government. His reasons were solid. First, as a Speaker he had to maintain his impartiality. Secondly, to vote against the Government then would mean siding with the Right-wing Opposition led by the BJP. The party ‘leaders’ expelled him most disgracefully. But even then his response was dignified: “It is the saddest day of my life.”
Called to the bar from Middle Temple, he established himself as an eminent lawyer who not only understood the law but knew how to use the law to defend the rights of the defenceless and the underdog.  But it is only as a parliamentarian that he rose to the pinnacle of glory. A gifted orator thoroughly versed in parliamentary procedures and privileges, he enriched the debates in the Lok Sabha with his vast experience as a political leader and as a lawyer. A party man he was, but never a partisan. In the party, he was very close to the CPM patriarch Jyoti Basu and consulted him in every major decision he took. The way Basu was prevented from becoming the Prime Minister in the 1990s by the myopic and sectarian ruling coterie in the party, pained Somnath immensely but like his mentor he suffered the pain stoically. Today when the CPM is gradually fading out of West Bengal politics, the old guard of the party would be missing him more and ruing the decision to throw him out.

Monday, 13 August, 2018