Somnath Chatterjee passes away

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Former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee passed away Monday morning in Kolkata. He was 89.

He was admitted to a Kolkata hospital on Wednesday after suffering a major stroke. He was put on ventilator support after he suffered a heart attack on Sunday.

Somnath Chatterjee was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) from 1968 to 2008. In 1971, he was nominated to contest an interim election caused by the death of his father, who had been elected from that constituency. He became a Member of the Lok Sabha in 1971 and was elected the first time as an independent candidate supported by the CPI(M). Subsequently he was re-elected nine times, except once when he lost to Mamata Banerjee in the Jadavpur Lok Sabha constituency in 1984. From 1989 until 2004 he was the leader of his party in the Lok Sabha. He was elected for the tenth time in 2004 as a member of the 14th Lok Sabha from Bolpur Lok Sabha constituency, which is considered to be a CPI(M) stronghold. Following the 2004 election, he was appointed as the pro tem speaker and subsequently on 4 June 2004 he was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the 14th Lok Sabha. He was the second pro tem Speaker after Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar to achieve this feat.

After the CPI (M) withdrew its support for the United Progressive Alliance-led government in mid-2008, the party included Chatterjee’s name on its list of MPs who were withdrawing their support from the government, despite his non-partisan position as Speaker. Chatterjee, however, appeared unwilling to follow the party line to vote against the government in a crucial July 2008 confidence vote, as voting against the government would mean voting alongside the right-wing opposition BJP. Ignoring the party’s instructions, he decided to stay on in his post as Speaker of the House, acting in this capacity during the confidence vote. Following the vote, which the government survived, on 23 July 2008, the CPI (M) expelled him from the party for violation of party discipline.

According to Chatterjee, the expulsion was “one of the saddest days” of his life. He suggested that future speakers should resign from their parties while serving in that office to help ensure its non-partisan standing.

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