IF Somnath Chatterjee is ever remembered it would be for one single event: his refusal to resign as Speaker of the Lok Sabha, defying the dictate of his party, the CPI (M), which dully expelled him in a fit of anger. In 2008, the UPA government had decided to sign a nuclear deal with the US – a deal to which the Left Front was opposed. In order to bring the UPA government down, a Trust Motion was introduced in the Lok Sabha. The CPI(M) wanted Chatterjee to resign his office as Speaker and vote against the Motion. He declined – on valid grounds. For one thing, voting against the Motion would not have mattered any way considering that the government survived, thanks to the help it received from an obliging Samajwadi Party. For another, once elected as Speaker in a democracy it would have been wrong on the part of Chatterjee to obey party dictates.
The issue was delicate but Chatterjee had to take a stand one way or another. That, he took and it caused his expulsion from the party he had faithfully served for some four decades, since 1971, when he was first elected to the Lok Sabha on a party ticket. In that sense he happens to hold a record of sorts as one of the longest serving members. Chatterjee’s life, in a large sense, is mostly as a Member of Parliament and his Memoirs understandably centres round the Lok Sabha, the functioning of which is the core of this book of reminiscences. What is interesting to note is that his political life as it were began when his father, a distinguished lawyer known as Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee who, at one time, presided over the Gwalior session of the All India Hindu Mahasabha, was persuaded by the CPI(M) to stand for parliamentary election – and won! Somnath does not quite explain how come a Hindu Mahasabha leader could consent to be a CPI(M) candidate for elections or even how come a wretched party like the CPI (M) could persuade a Hindu Mahasabha leader to represent it. That remains a mystery.
Somnath merely followed in his dad’s footsteps. But one wonders what views Chatterjee Senior had about the RSS and the BJP which Chatterjee Junior so despises and hates, and writes about in the vulgarest language unbecoming any decent-minded citizen. But to go back to Somnath’s first foray into national politics in 1971. He won the elections to the Fourth Lok Sabha. Then came Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and thereafter we get several intimate glimpses of Indian politics as played by Indira herself as well as by her friends and opponents – mostly the latter-such as Morarji Desai, Jayaprakash Narayan, JB Kripalani, Atal Behari Vajpayee et al. Somnath traces the growth of the Janata Party in all its convolutions and the intricacies of coalition politics and the election to the Prime Ministership of the likes of VP Singh, IK Gujral and HD Deve Gowda.
Understandably there is reference to the way in which CPI(M) denied Jyoti Basu a chance to be Prime Minister, later to be described as a “historic blunder”. It may have been a blunder for the CPI(M), but God saved India from a CPI(M) assault on Indian polity that would have destroyed the country and its institutions. As can be expected Chatterjee then goes on to discuss that period, following Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the crowning of her apolitical son Rajiv Gandhi as the putative Prime Minister. At this stage Chatterjee suffers from a memory loss; what happened in Delhi and elsewhere following Indira’s assassination and the manner in which Congress supporters went about killing innocent Sikhs is not recorded. Nor do we hear anything about Rajiv’s younger and detestable brother Sanjay.
What Chatterjee feels is of greater relevance was the controversy over the building of a Ram Minder in Ayodhya, which, according to him is a “national tamasha”. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao doesn’t get high marks for his rule. If Rao saved India from bankruptcy, that is of no concern to Chatterjee.
Chatterjee doesn’t have the courage to look at his face in a mirror. Abusing the BJP and the RSS in the foulest language meets his immediate need. At one point he writes: “The government (NDA) failed on many other fronts, too. And for a party that prided itself on its nationalist rhetoric… by far the most glaring failure lay in its inability to provide a sense or security to the common man”. That is precisely what can be said of the UPA government under which some 300 odd districts are under Naxal rule, policemen are killed, trains are derailed, buses are burnt and like Chatterjee, the UPA government looks on benignly. He should be ashamed of himself.
Chatterjee comes through in many of his hate-filled pages as a partisan politician, ignorant of history, anxious to curry favour of the minorities by damning Hinduism. One wonders what his father, the great NC Chatterjee, a devour Hindu Mahasabha man has to say about his petulant son who has nothing to say about the rampant corruption within the UPA which was exposed by the media whether in regard to the chairman of the Indian Medical Council or the Commonwealth Games, or so many other issues. One expects a certain objectivity from a senior politician even if he belongs to a Marxist Party and some sense of balance.
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