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Karat’s kangaroo court
Somnath expelled in a hurry

July 23: Prakash Karat does not believe revenge is a dish best served cold.

The CPM today summarily expelled Somnath Chatterjee from the party with which he has been associated for 40 years, less than 24 hours after he defied Karat and presided over a trust motion the Left could not defeat.

The politburo invoked a clause (the dreaded number 13 in article 19) in the CPM constitution that allows “summary” procedures and came close to suggesting that its statute, not the Indian Constitution, was supreme for party members.

“Chatterjee may have acted according to the Indian Constitution but the party constitution is supreme in case of party members,” CPM Bengal secretary Biman Bose said.

“Summary” action denies the accused a chance to defend himself and carries echoes of the manner in which Josef Stalin used to carry out the now-infamous purges during the 1930s. Clause 13 bypasses the norm of going through the six-phase step for disciplinary action that begins with warning, followed by censure, public censure, removal from party post, suspension for less than a year and, finally, expulsion.

CPM sources claimed that the politburo decided to act fast to pre-empt Chatterjee, who apparently sent a letter to the party saying he would quit as Speaker as well as from the party. Chatterjee was not available to confirm whether he did write such a letter.

If true, that would have rubbed more salt into the lacerated CPM, licking the wounds of the Lok Sabha defeat and Chatterjee’s defiance. The Speaker had earlier turned down a request from Karat to step down and vote against the motion, which would have meant siding with the BJP.

In asserting the party’s right to expel a member, a leader unwittingly suggested that Karat was not telling the truth when he said it was up to Chatterjee to decide whether to quit. “What Prakash said was for media and public consumption. But Somnath was told in no uncertain terms the party wanted him to conform to its line,” state secretariat member Benoy Konar told The Telegraph.

The CPM might defend itself by saying it is the party’s internal affair but the complexion of the alleged misinformation changes when viewed against the fact that it related to the office of the Speaker.

The sources said Delhi-based members of the politburo took the decision to sack the 10-time MP at an emergency meeting this morning, apparently with the concurrence of outstation colleagues.

The Speaker, however, appeared unfazed as he chaired meetings and attended an event to mark the 152nd birth anniversary of Independence icon Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

The steady stream of ministers, ranging from P. Chidambaram to Shivraj Patil to Lalu Prasad, to Chatterjee’s home after the expulsion announcement was testimony to his sudden popularity on Delhi’s power circuit.

Lalu Prasad, once a staunch supporter of the Left, did not mince words. “Now the only thing left for the CPM is to expel Jyotibabu. They have lost their minds. Prakash Karat can never attain his stature.”

Politburo member M.K. Pandhe said Chatterjee had “invited the summary expulsion by his political defiance and behaviour” in Parliament.

It is not known how Jyoti Basu, known to be close to Chatterjee but a stickler for party rules, reacted. Bose, who met Basu yesterday, said the veteran “listened” but “made no discordant comment”.

But Subhas Chakraborty, who counts Basu as his mentor and was censured for airing his views outside the party, said: “I am shocked and sad. The expulsion will do a damage to the party.”

With reports from Biswajit Roy and Jayanth Jacob

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