NEW DELHI: ‘Somnath da’ — as he was popularly known — lent his weight and stature to the House.
He would make unlikely friends — MPs from smaller regional parties, whom he unfailing gave time to raise questions.His fellow presiding officer from the Rajya Sabha, Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, once told this writer, “One cannot go to a meeting with our Somnath da without reading a few things. He’s an outstanding parliamentarian, knows all the rules in the book, and is also one of the finest legal minds. Not easy to disagree with him…”
His decision to be non-partisan did not quite endear him to his own partymen, who often complained that he would cut them down or not give them enough chance, just to prove he was being fair.
So, when the expulsion order came, Chatterjee did not find many backers in the party. Chatterjee maintained, in a private audience where this writer was present, that he had Basu’s backing, when he refused to quit the speakership.
If that was so, that exchange remained private.
History will look at Basu as the disciplined Communist stalwart who abided by his party’s decision not to allow him to accept the prime minister’s job — and Chatterjee as the egotist who refused to quit a chair.
Unless, of course, the political historian focuses on the great argument Chatterjee had with Sitaram Yechury, where he said the decision to withdraw support from the UPA would be suicidal for the CPI-M in Bengal. Chatterjee was to be proved right, perhaps, one of the reasons why Yechury tried to bring him back to the party fold after becoming general secretary. By then, it was too late.
Chatterjee was a broken man, ploughing a lonely field running an NGO in his former constituency in Bolpur. Broken as much to see the decline of the Left in his state as his humiliating ouster from the party. “I do not need any certificate from anyone to prove my politics. Like Jyoti Basu, I believe, once a communist, always a communist!” The irony lay in such a statement coming from the most openly apostate of them.