|14th Speaker of the Lok Sabha|
4 June 2004 – 16 May 2009
|Deputy||Charanjit Singh Atwal|
|Preceded by||Manohar Joshi|
|Succeeded by||Meira Kumar|
|Member of Parliament
for Bolpur, West Bengal
|Preceded by||Saradish Roy|
25 July 1929 |
|Political party||CPI-M (1968-2008)|
|Children||1 son and 2 daughters|
|As of September 17, 2006
Somnath Chatterjee (Bengali: সোমনাথ চট্টোপাধ্যায়; born July 25, 1929) is an Indian politician who had been associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for most of his life, though he is currently an independent. He was the Speaker of the Lok Sabha (House of the People) from 2004 to 2009.
Education and family background
Born in Tezpur, Assam, his father, Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, was a prominent lawyer, intellectual, and Hindu revivalist and nationalist around the time of India's independence, and his mother, Binapani Debi ran the home. Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee was one of the founders and one-time president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha. In 1948, when the Communist Party of India was banned by the Jawaharlal Nehru led Indian National Congress government in India, and its party leaders arrested, Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee formed the All India Civil Liberties Union, and agitated for their release. In the process, he came close to Jyoti Basu, in spite of continuing ideological political differences between the two.
Somnath was educated at Mitra Institution School, Presidency College and then the University of Calcutta in Calcutta. He also attended Jesus College, Cambridge and graduating with a B.A. in 1952 and a M.A. in 1957, both in law, has been awarded an honorary fellowship by the college in 2007. He was called to the bar from the Middle Temple in London and took up legal practice as an advocate at the Calcutta High Court before joining active politics.
Somnath Chatterjee was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) from 1968 to 2008. In 1971, he was nominated to contest an interim election caused by the death of his father, who had been elected from that constituency. He became a Member of the Lok Sabha in 1971 and was elected the first time as an independent candidate supported by the CPI(M). Subsequently he was re-elected nine times, except once when he lost to Mamata Banerjee in the Jadavpur Lok Sabha constituency in 1984. From 1989 until 2004 he was the leader of his party in the Lok Sabha. He was elected for the tenth time in 2004 as a member of the present 14th Lok Sabha from Bolpur Lok Sabha constituency, which is considered to be a CPI(M) stronghold. Following the election, on June 4, 2004 he was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the 14th Lok Sabha.
Expulsion from the CPI (M)
After the CPI (M) withdrew its support for the United Progressive Alliance-led government in mid-2008, the party included Chatterjee's name on its list of MPs who were withdrawing their support from the government, despite his non-partisan position as Speaker. Chatterjee, however, appeared unwilling to follow the party line to vote against the government in a crucial July 2008 confidence vote, as voting against the government would mean voting alongside the right-wing opposition BJP. Ignoring the party's instructions, he decided to stay on in his post as Speaker of the House, acting in this capacity during the confidence vote. Following the vote, which the government survived, on July 23, 2008, the CPI (M) expelled him from the party for violation of party discipline. A CPI (M) press release said, "The Politburo of the Communist Party of India-Marxist has unanimously decided to expel Somnath Chatterjee from the membership of the party with immediate effect. This action has been taken under Article XIX, clause 13 of the Party Constitution for seriously compromising the position of the party." Bengal secretary Biman Bose said "Chatterjee may have acted according to the Indian Constitution but the party constitution is supreme in [the] case of party members."
According to Chatterjee, the expulsion was "one of the saddest days" of his life. He suggested that future speakers should resign from their parties while serving in that office to help ensure its non-partisan standing. His constituency of Bolpur had already been reserved for the Scheduled Castes, meaning he would have been unable to contest the seat in the next election; he announced in August 2008, following his expulsion from the CPI(M), that he would retire from politics at the time of the next election in 2009. He was broadly respected in his constituency; the CPI(M)'s 2009 candidate, Ramchandra Dom, expressed admiration for Chatterjee and vowed to continue his work, while the Congress candidate, Asit Mal, said that the people of Bolpur were "hurt at the way [Chatterjee] was driven out of the CPI-M" and that their feelings would "be reflected in the results".
Awards and honors
In 1996 he won the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award. During Jyoti Basu's tenure, he was the Chairman of WBIDC and in that capacity he made countless overseas trips to promote Foreign Direct Investment in West Bengal. His penchant for signing Memoranda of Understanding (MOU), many of which never came to fruition, earned him the nickname "Mou-da"! After Buddhadeb Bhattacharya became the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Somnath's influence within the party and the state government waned considerably, although as Speaker of the Lok Sabha he held a constitutional position of importance.
In 2005, he was caught in a controversy over his statement on the Supreme Court orders related to the vote of confidence in the Jharkhand Assembly. He said that the Supreme Court was encroaching on the right of the Legislature by issuing orders on the proceedings of the Jharkhand Assembly. He asked for a Presidential reference to the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the Indian Constitution. This remark was criticised by Bharatiya Janata Party which supported the Supreme Court's decision.
The Opposition demanded his resignation because he held an office of profit as Chairman of Santiniketan Sriniketan Development Authority (SSDA). He argued that since he did not profit from the office, the demand was baseless.
Somnath Chatterjee is known for his fiscal integrity. When in 2004, as speaker, he moved into the official residence at 20 Akbar Road, he discontinued the practice of paying for toiletries and tea from the national exchequer. On trips abroad, he bore the expenses of any accompanying family members.
- "Speaker adamant, may quit both House and party", Hindustan Times, July 17, 2008.
- "Somnath pays price for violating party line", IANS (headlinesindia.com), July 23, 2008.
- "CPI-M fails to pull down Govt, sacks Somnath". CNN IBN. July 23, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-23.
- "The Telegraph".
- Santosh H K Narayan, "No taker of Speaker's suggestion", headlinesindia.com, August 1, 2008.
- Sirshendu Panth, "Retired Somnath Chatterjee omnipresent in old constituency", IANS (thaindian.com), April 3, 2009.
- Zee News Bureau. "Somnath Chatterjee -- Profile".
- "The Conscientious Marxist" Tehelka Retrieved 2008-08-18
- Speaker to seek Kalam’s view on SC order, The Tribune India, 10 March 2006. Accessed 27 September 2006.
- Not holding any office of profit, says Somnath, The Hindu, 25 March 2006. Accessed 27 September 2006.
- Biography of Shri Somnath Chaterjee
- News article in the Hindu Business Line: Somnath Chatterjee likely to be Speaker
- Biography from Calcutta Yellow Pages.com
- Official biographical sketch in Parliament of India website