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Somnath’s message for CPM: change captain

Calcutta, Sept 25: Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee today said “a coach or a captain is changed when a team loses”, when asked if he felt a change in the CPM leadership was needed in the face of successive electoral debacles.

A day after the Left’s poor show in the elections to 12 municipalities, the expelled CPM leader told The Telegraph: “I would not like to comment on what the CPM would or would not do. Onek shomoy dekhechi team here gele coach ba captain bodol hoe jay (I have seen several times a coach or a captain is changed when a team loses).”

Asked to elaborate, Chatterjee said: “It’s for you all to interpret what I have said. Please don’t put words in my mouth.”

He made similar comments earlier in the day on the sidelines of a programme for the handicapped at Rabindra Sadan.

Asked about Chatterjee’s comments, CPM central committee member Shyamal Chakraborty said: “We respect Somnathda and his personality. But the fact is that communists turn into leaders through mass movements. They are not hired by the party as coaches or captains. One should keep that in mind.”

Chatterjee’s observations came at a time many state and district-level leaders have called for a change in the leadership of the CPM. The issue was raised at a three-day state committee meeting at Alimuddin Street a fortnight before the September 21 municipal polls. The meeting had been held to discuss the Left’s panchayat poll debacle.

A CPM leader said he was not surprised by Chatterjee’s comments. “No wonder Somnathda is saying such things in the aftermath of the poor performance in the municipal elections. He is probably articulating what many in our party feel,” he said.

The Left won only one of the 12 municipalities that went to polls. It drew a blank in former bastions Burdwan town and Chakdah in Nadia.

Asked about the CPM’s decision to pull out of the polls to the Burdwan and Chakdah municipalities on the day of the elections, Chatterjee evaded a direct reply. “I cannot comment on that. But in a democracy, participation is a must. Otherwise, democracy is weakened,” he said.

Chatterjee was expelled from the CPM after he refused to step down as Lok Sabha Speaker in July 2008 over the India-US nuclear deal.

The CPM had moved a no-confidence motion against the UPA I government, which survived it through a test of vote on the floor of Parliament on July 22, 2008. Chatterjee had presided over the no-trust vote.

Since then, Chatterjee had not been on easy terms with his former party. After the death of former chief minister Jyoti Basu, Chatterjee had said it was on Basu’s advice that he did not step down as Lok Sabha Speaker despite the party insisting on his resignation.

The comments created a furore in the party, with CPM state secretary Biman Bose saying Chatterjee should have spoken about this when Basu was alive so that the patriarch could have defended himself.

However, during the 2011 Assembly elections, CPM leader Gautam Deb had got Chatterjee to campaign for him in the Dum Dum Assembly constituency. Chatterjee had also campaigned for former Assembly Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim’s son Fuad, who had contested from the Ballygunge Assembly seat on a CPM ticket.