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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

Somnath Breaks Free of Karat Diktat

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

If reports of his ‘defiance’ of a diktat from the CPI(M) general secretary, Prakash Karat, are true the Lok Sabha speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, would have saved the high office that he holds from becoming an ill-chosen pawn in the battle between the Left-inspired opposition and the Congress-led UPA. This battle under Karat’s overall command has two purposes: throw out the government and pave the way for another dispensation that may well be dominated by the saffron brigade.

It has been reported that the speaker would stay on in office during the crucial trust vote in parliament on July 22. The CPI (M) supremo wanted him to quit his office ahead of that day so as to swell the numbers on his side and also to embarrass the government, which he thinks should have accepted the commands from his remote control from day one.

It may well be that eventually succumbing to the pressure that must have been brought upon him Chatterjee does quit his office; even just before the D-day. But he has shown his mettle by the discreet manner in which he has ‘defied’ Karat. He has, as befits his office, publicly refused to be involved in any controversy over the issue of his resignation but has nevertheless made it known that as speaker he felt that he should not be treated as a member of any party.

It was the CPI (M), probably Karat in particular, which started the controversy about him. It is not clear what message comrade Karat is trying to send by getting the resignation of the speaker. With the BSP on his side openly and the BJP also working to supplement his efforts at toppling the government the comrade should be sure of his strength. Maybe, he feels he cannot kick out the government with his new found but strange allies.

When early in July the CPI (M) officially announced its divorce from the UPA, it submitted a list of its members who had decided to withdraw support to the UPA government to President Pratibha Patil. The list included the name of Chatterjee when it should not have; not without seeking his prior consent, anyway.

Chatterjee could have given that consent if he was willing to face the charge of having been a party man while holding the office of speaker. He would have then insisted that first an announcement has to be made that he was quitting as the Lok Sabha speaker.

Karat could not have been unaware that Chatterjee had in a way ceased to be a member of his party (CPI-M) after his elevation to the office of the speaker of Lok Sabha. The inclusion of Chatterjee’s name in the list submitted to the President was technically, politically and morally wrong.

After being caught on the wrong foot Karat did some damage control exercise, saying that the decision to quit or otherwise would be taken by Chatterjee alone. The office of the speaker, in the meanwhile, issued a statement requesting that the speaker be kept free from any ‘unnecessary’ controversy. The statement made it very clear that the speaker ‘does not represent any political party in the discharge of his duties and functions’. It was a clear rebuff for Karat and Co.

The member from Bolpur (West Bengal) was elected on the CPI (M) ticket and has been for years the most articulate member of the party till his election to the office of the speaker a little over four years ago. It has been a convention in most democracies that a member of parliament, once elected as speaker, becomes detached from all parties to act as an impartial presiding officer of the house.

The speaker’s office is one of dignity and honour and enjoys an authority that accords him or her great power and discretion in the conduct of proceedings of the house. While all other members of the house speak for their constituencies and parties, the speaker represents the whole house with all its different shades of opinions. The speaker does not take part in voting in the house but in case of a tie can cast his vote to tilt the balance for or against one party.

In framing the constitution India had borrowed a lot from Britain—its traditions and customs. Almost all the high constitutional offices are modelled after their counterparts in Great Britain where the speaker does not side with any party and plays an impartial role in conducting the affairs of the house.

In fact, the British speaker is almost always chosen ‘unanimously’. The ruling party does recommend his or her name but only after the opposition approves of it. If the opposition rejects the ruling party’s choice another candidate has to be nominated for the office.

For long the speaker of the British House of Commons has enjoyed a reputation for conducting the house in a strict, non-partisan way. In 1945 after the Labour party dislodged the Conservatives in the polls, the new government agreed to the re-election of the speaker who was elected as a Tory (Conservative) candidate. In Britain it is possible for the speaker to remain in office as long as he or she wishes—until death or (voluntary) retirement. It is quite common to see the speaker getting re-elected unopposed and thus reinforcing the belief that he or she is a non-party candidate acceptable to all parties.

By asserting himself and reminding Karat and his ilk that as speaker he no longer considers himself to be bound by the discipline or whip of any party, Somnath Chatterjee has conveyed a message that is not sweet music to Karat. In fact, to all political parties who care to be attentive to the new parliamentary tradition he has set for India.

- Syndicate Features -

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