The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CPM learns to speak yes, Somnath in chair
Jyoti Basu as PM in 1996

Taking part in government in 2004 NO

Somnath Chatterjee as Speaker

Calcutta, May 25: “Yes, madam,” he said and slipped into the bedroom adjoining the sitting room. Sitaram Yechury had gone into the sitting room on the second floor of the CPM office here on Alimuddin Street. It was 6.30 pm when Sonia Gandhi called Yechury on his mobile to know what the CPM had decided on her proposal to make Somnath Chatterjee the Speaker.

“I told her we’ve said yes and she said thank you very much,” Yechury said as he came out of the bedroom.

He recalled that Sonia had first mooted the idea to him on the phone on the night of May 19. Pranab Mukherjee discussed it the next day with CPM general secretary H.S. Surjeet. “Sonia wanted Somnathda because of his long parliamentary experience and to ensure the government’s stability,” he said.

The question now is: Is this first ‘yes’ from a party known as a no-sayer an indication that at a later stage it could agree to join the government, a proposal it rejected last week'

Yechury would not say how many of the politburo members had backed Chatterjee as the Speaker and how many had opposed. “The discussions are the party’s internal matter, but the decision is public,” he said. All he would say was that the decision was taken after “about an hour’s discussion — very quickly, you’d say, by the standards of our party debates”.

Party sources said those who opposed the idea contended that accepting the Speaker’s job would bind the party to defending the government in the House. Such a scenario would make the party’s stand of supporting the government from outside indefensible in public perception, breaking the thin line of distance from the Congress.

Backers of the proposal had a better day today than they had when the central committee spoke against joining the government. They argued that a distinction should be made between “joining the legislative wing of the ruling alliance (by accepting Sonia’s offer) and joining the executive wing”, as Yechury put it. Besides, the supporting members also thought that the Speaker’s post could give the party an opportunity to influence important legislation.

Sonia’s plea for “stability” also strengthened the case. The sources said the stability argument was stronger in the debate over accepting the Speaker’s job than in the one on joining the government. “Certain forces could have actually been more active in destabilising the government if the Left had joined it,” another party leader said.

But the politburo seemed to have agreed that today’s decision was momentous as it puts the CPM for the first time in a Lok Sabha position that is usually occupied by the government’s nominee.

For those like Jyoti Basu and Surjeet, who had supported the idea of joining the government, today’s ‘yes’ could open up future options on debating the big ‘no’.

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