“I Shall Die Somewhat Disappointed, Somewhat Disillusioned”: An Interview with Former Speaker and CPI(M) Member Somnath Chatterjee

17 June 2017
Ravi S Sahani/The India Today Group/Getty Images
Ravi S Sahani/The India Today Group/Getty Images

Somnath Chatterjee, a former speaker of the Lok Sabha and a former member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is a disappointed man. He is disappointed with the lack of leadership plaguing his former party, the growing prominence of religion in Indian politics, and the state of the nation and its judiciary. In July 2008, the Politburo of the CPI(M) expelled Chatterjee for “seriously compromising the position of the party.” After the Left parties had withdrawn support from the Indo-US nuclear deal that month, Chatterjee had refused to step down from the position of speaker of the Lok Sabha despite both implicit and explicit requests from the party leadership, leading to his expulsion. At the time, Chatterjee was a ten-time member of parliament and the first member of the CPI(M) to be appointed speaker. 

On 16 May 2017, Parul Abrol, an independent journalist based in Delhi, visited Chatterjee at his house in Kolkata. Chatterjee spoke candidly on a range of issues—from the growing influence of the Bharatiya Janata Party across the country to the failure of the CPI(M) to execute the Tata Nano project at Singur. He also spoke about Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the CPI(M), and recounted Yechury’s efforts to persuade Chatterjee to return to the party. Chaterjee told Abrol that he refused the offer since the party rules required an expelled member to file for membership again, and he did not believe he had done anything to warrant either the expulsion or the request for membership.    

Parul Abrol:Why do you think the BJP rose to power in the manner that it did?

Somnath Chatterjee: This is the danger of using religion for politics. It is easy to rouse people with slogans of religion in danger, of a particular community suffering from greater problems, and of the failure of other parties to deliver [change]. What happened in Uttar Pradesh [the BJP’s victory in the state elections] is shudder-inducing. They are romping home elsewhere also. In Assam, they never had any influence and [now] they have the state. Kerala and West Bengal, are somewhat ...

PA:Resisting?

Parul Abrol  is an independent journalist based in New Delhi.

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