Agony of being Comrade Karat Mask on Speaker row slips

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  • Published 15.07.08

July 14: Prakash Karat has been forced to call the Speaker of the Lok Sabha “Comrade” in writing, an undeclared descent from the high horse after the CPM insisted it would not drag the non-partisan office into politics.

“A lot of speculation is going on in the media regarding the position of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Comrade Somnath Chatterjee. I have already stated that any decision will be taken by the Speaker himself,” Karat said in a statement today, buffeted by reports that Chatterjee was resisting overt and covert attempts to make him vacate the Chair for the sake of one vote when the trust motion comes up.

Karat’s statement duly added that “we do not want the office of the Speaker being dragged into any unnecessary controversy”.

By referring to Chatterjee as “Comrade” in a written party statement issued for general consumption the general secretary has sent a loud signal to Chatterjee that the CPM’s claim on him still stands supreme.

The appellation amounts to a virtual directive to Chatterjee to step down as Speaker and act like any other party member, notwithstanding the protestations of the party.

Karat’s oft-repeated assertion — that “any decision will be taken by the Speaker himself” — runs counter to what sources have told The Telegraph.

Asked whether he had met Chatterjee at his Delhi house and appealed to him to put in his papers as Speaker, Karat said: “I have issued a statement. Nothing more (to say).”

The statement issued today does not shed light on such a question. Neither does it deal with other questions such as whether Karat requested Jyoti Basu to intervene and persuade Chatterjee to relent and spare the party the ignominy of ordering him to step down.

A question that could not be asked was whether chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his industries minister Nirupam Sen were sent to Basu’s house to put pressure on the Speaker.

No CPM leader would field another question: whether the party was using the good offices of a Calcutta-based businessman to mediate and put an end to the embarrassing controversy.

Besides, after putting Chatterjee’s name on the list of Left MPs withdrawing support to the UPA, the CPM will find it difficult to justify the claim that the party does not want to drag the Speaker’s post into controversies.

Some leaders said an “old” list of CPM members, which was drawn up when the Left pledged support to the UPA and before Chatterjee was named Speaker, was downloaded in haste — and the “oversight” was at the root of the controversy.

Party sources said they were hoping that Chatterjee would take a decision in “a day or two” to step down.

Resignation as Speaker alone will not end the controversy. Chatterjee has threatened to resign as MP also if he is forced out of the Chair, which in effect will mean bringing the majority mark down and helping the government.

If Chatterjee does oblige Karat, it will not come before prolonging the agony of the leadership. The CPM was hoping that Chatterjee would resign on Monday after meeting Basu on Sunday.

Every extra day means gifting ginger groups ammunition to derive pleasure from the central leadership’s pain — as Bengal minister Subhas Chakraborty proved today. Chakraborty criticised the leadership for ignoring the “constitutional decorum and dignity of the Speaker’s post”.

CPM sources said that though the Speaker’s post is “non-partisan”, the presiding officers of the Bengal and Kerala Assemblies, Hashim Abdul Halim and K. Radhakrishnan, attend party events.

However, Halim, who has retained membership of the CPM state committee, said Chatterjee’s “situation was different”. “He was supported as Speaker by 18 parties, including the BJP,’’ Halim said. Chatterjee had stepped down from the CPM central committee.