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Calcutta meeting to settle Speaker offer

Calcutta, May 22: The CPM debated for two days before rejecting the Congress’ invitation to join the coalition government at the Centre. Now, the party has decided to convene a special one-day politburo meeting here on Tuesday to discuss the offer of the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post to veteran Somnath Chatterjee.

Senior leaders, including general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, contacted Jyoti Basu immediately after the Congress proposed Chatterjee’s name for Speaker.

While CPM hardliners like Prakash Karat and Biman Bose are believed to have opposed the proposal, moderates like Basu, Surjeet and Sitaram Yechury are in favour of it. Chatterjee is willing to accept the post because of his long stint as the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha.

Basu told The Telegraph this afternoon that the sole agenda for the meet will be to ratify the Congress’ proposal. The nitty-gritty of the common minimum programme to be adopted by the United Progressive Alliance could also be discussed.

The meeting was scheduled in Calcutta as Basu was unwilling to go to Delhi because of his health. CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, who had to return to Calcutta as he fell ill while attending last week’s central committee meeting in Delhi, is recuperating at home. Besides, Bose is busy overseeing preparations for elections to 17 municipalities in Bengal on June 27.

“We took a resolution to back the Congress-led government in our last politburo and central committee meeting. But this time we will have to discuss the Congress’ proposal to install Somnath as Speaker,” Basu said.

According to CPM observers, Tuesday’s meeting of the apex decision-making body assumes significance as many party functionaries, particularly those based in Bengal and Kerala, feel Chattjee’s installation as Speaker might send a wrong signal to the people in the villages, the party’s support base.

“Though one becomes apolitical as soon as he assumes the chair of the Speaker, we have to be alert so that our Opposition cannot misguide our party rank and file,” said a leader.

He said in the event of Chatterjee taking over as Speaker, Basudeb Acharya, MP from Bankura, may be appointed leader of the party in the Lok Sabha.

The CPM is also busy preparing a list of demands which the party is likely to place before the Congress leadership.

Three politburo members —Yechury as well as Bengal and Tripura chief ministers Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Manik Sarkar — have been holding marathon discussions at the Alimuddin Street headquarters since yesterday to finalise the CPM’s demands.

According to sources, the demands include continuation of the public distribution system and subsidy in key sectors like health, education and PDS.

The leaders also suggested that interest in small savings should be increased as poor and middle-income group people invest their money in such schemes. They feel the BJP government’s decision to reduce the interest had hit Bengal’s economy.

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