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CPM rift spreads from power to chair

New Delhi, May 23: A new tussle has broken out in the CPM, throwing open the question of Somnath Chatterjee accepting the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post.

After refusing to participate in a Congress-led coalition, the hardliners in the CPM are reluctant to allow Chatterjee to occupy the Speaker’s chair.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi had offered the post to Chatterjee, who has nearly three decades of parliamentary experience.

The CPM leader is willing to accept the post and is confident of being able to manage the Lok Sabha. But a section within the party, particularly from Kerala, is keen to keep him out of the office.

A truncated party politburo met this morning in a bid to thrash out the issue. Of the five members present, three —Prakash Karat, E. Balanandan and S.R. Pillai — were from Kerala.

The other two were party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Sitaram Yechury. Both had been in favour of the CPM participating in the Congress-led coalition.

The hardliners feel that the CPM should not be seen as part of the government and accepting the Speaker’s post may give that impression. But the softliners believe the party should make a distinction between the executive and the legislature.

The Left and its supporters have a strong presence of 63 MPs in the Lok Sabha, which is the legislature. The party should not hesitate to accept the Speaker’s post, they say.

Chatterjee, an advocate of the CPM’s participation in government, is of the opinion that the party with its large bloc of MPs could have worked for the people. This would have also given it a new profile and, perhaps, helped it break out of the confines of Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

Another argument among the no-changers is that Chatterjee’s speakership would deprive the party of one of its most articulate members. But the other camp contests this line, pointing out that both the CPM and the CPI have sent several new and forceful speakers to the Lok Sabha.

Today’s meeting could not reach a decision and the matter will be discussed at a full politburo meeting in Calcutta on May 25.

The Left Front partners also met and discussed the speakership offer.

“The CPM is divided on the issue. And we have told them to take a decision in their own party forum,” said a Left leader. The Left Front will again convene on May 26.

Yechury met Sonia after the politburo decided to leave the issue open.

It will be the second time that the CPM would have ref- used the Congress president’s offer in case the full politburo declines to accept the speakership offer.

Hardly a week ago, Sonia had met both the CPM and the CPI leadership and asked them to participate in the coalition to ensure more stability.

The CPI national executive, though not against participation, decided to go along with the CPM in order to keep Left unity “intact”.

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