The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Speaker Somnath starts on neutral note

New Delhi, June 3: Somnath Chatterjee today made his first intervention from the Speaker’s chair, obliquely snubbing Congress MPs who wanted him to pull up Akali Dal members.

Akali MPs and Navjot Singh Sidhu walked out of the House when the Congress’ Sajjan Kumar, who has been linked with the 1984 Sikh riots, took oath.

The moment Sajjan walked up to the mike, Akali members stood up and shouted slogans: “Sikkhon ke kaatil murdabaad (Death to the killer of Sikhs).” Sonia Gandhi watched impassively, so did Rahul and Priyanka.

But backbenchers in the Congress refused to let the protest go uncontested. Voices came from the back and the middle rows: “We have made a Sikh the Prime Minister of the country. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

They asked Chatterjee to intervene, saying the Akali members were dishonouring the people’s mandate by walking out on Sajjan.

The pro-tem Speaker, however, rejected the demand. “People have a right to express their sentiments. And it should be respected… Let us conti- nue with the business of the House.”

Chatterjee will be formally sworn in Speaker tomorrow, becoming the first communist to occupy the chair.

All parties, including the BJP and its allies, today supported his candidature. As the deadline for filing nominations expired at noon, he was the only one in the fray.

Earlier, NDA leaders George Fernandes and Mamata Banerjee had objected to Chatterjee’s candidature, saying they had not been consulted. They wanted to field former Speaker P.A. Sangma against him.

But the BJP leadership chose to go with Chatterjee, an MP for three decades who would have won anyway in case of an election to the Speaker’s post.

Eighteen sets of nomination papers — including those by Sonia Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani — were filed on his behalf today.

Parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said “each political party” and “who’s who of the Lok Sabha” have supported Chatterjee’s candidature. This was a tribute to his “able leadership, statesmanship and experience”. A resolution favouring his nomination will be put to vote tomorrow and adopted.

With the Speaker’s choice decided, the lobbying for his deputy’s post has begun.

S.S. Dhindsa — who was minister in the NDA government — met Advani today and urged him to accept the candidature of Charanjit Singh Atwal, an Akali member, for the post.

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