Somnath keeps Karat sleepless Fresh CPM bid flops

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  • Published 15.07.08

July 15: A fresh — and desperate — attempt by the CPM to persuade Somnath Chatterjee to resign as Speaker and vote against the trust motion appears to have slammed into a wall tonight. A showdown over Chatterjee now looms before Prakash Karat ahead of the showdown on the Lok Sabha floor slated next week.

Defiance knocking on the doors, the CPM slipped back to its favourite strikeback posture, warning of action against Subhas Chakraborty for questioning “outside the party” the decision to vote along with the BJP on the trust motion.

The central leadership this evening despatched chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to Jyoti Basu’s house for the third time in five days to request the patriarch to turn Chatterjee around. Industries minister Nirupam Sen also accompanied the chief minister like he did last Friday.

Basu agreed to speak to Chatterjee but also pointed out that the constitutional reasons cited by the Speaker were valid, sources said. “Basu’s response was not too encouraging for the leadership,” a source added.

The threat of censure held out against Chakraborty prompted many to wonder whether an infuriated party is sending a signal to Chatterjee to fall in line or face action. But party sources pointed out that disciplinary action would be the last resort and the CPM has not yet assessed what the impact would be if they penalise a veteran like Chatterjee.

“An honourable solution has to be found, keeping in mind the sensitive nature of Chatterjee. He is upholding constitutional propriety. Veterans like Basu have always given primacy to party discipline but Chatterjee, who has spent a lifetime nurturing parliamentary values, has to think of precedents set by his office, too,” a CPM leader said.

He seemed to be suggesting that Karat has to take the initiative for a truce.

On Tuesday night, the party appeared to be factoring in the possibility of Chatterjee remaining Speaker at least till the trust vote on July 22. A resignation before July 22 is also fraught with risk for the party as Chatterjee has threatened to quit as MP to avoid voting along with the BJP.

CPM politburo member M.K. Pandhe described the issue as a “special case” and Chatterjee’s position as Speaker as a “special problem”.

“It’s natural that we would expect all our MPs to abide by the party whip and vote against the government. But Somnath’s case is special because of his constitutional post. That’s why we have left it to him,’’ Pandhe said.

He admitted that Chatterjee’s case had some merit. “In Indian political tradition, the Speaker is expected to be above partisan politics. The popular perception goes that his party should not dictate terms to him,’’ said Pandhe, also Citu president, adding that there was nothing wrong in the party including Chatterjee in the list to the President.

Pandhe’s comments do not go against the public stand of the CPM, which has been religiously denying exerting pressure on Chatterjee even while directing him to step down, but they suggest a willingness to consider the Speaker as a “special case” and find a way out.

If a solution cannot be found in the next three days, the issue will go to the central committee, which meets on Saturday. The complexion of the game could change then as the CPM has a tendency to show the iron hand when in doubt (as was evident in Nandigram). In keeping with that spirit, the CPM is likely to accuse “American-inspired” domestic media of trying to split the party.

The ripples have already rolled beyond the CPM. Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh met Chatterjee this evening to laud the “firm stand” he had taken against voting with the BJP and to request him “not to resign” ahead of the floor test.

“He has been an exemplary Speaker, he belongs to all of us, not just to the CPM,” Amar said, emphasising that he had been sent to Chatterjee by his boss, Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The BJP, happy to fish in troubled waters, rushed in with advocacy of Karat, saying once a party had laid the line, all MPs should be bound by it. Karat himself appeared to react dismissively to the burgeoning “crisis within a crisis”, saying the decision on voting had been “left to Chatterjee”.

He was even more dismissive of questions regarding a letter Chatterjee wrote to the party leadership sometime ago arguing that as Speaker, he should not be forced by the party to vote along with the BJP. “We do not write letters in the party,” is all Karat would tell journalists.

Inputs from Biswajit Roy and Jayanth Jacob