Comrade Somnath Chatterjee is now a traitor

Written by: Rajesh Krishna
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{image-somnatha speaker_23072008.jpg}Bangalore, Jul 23: CPI(M) cadres in the streets of Kolkata and Kannur two Meccas of Indian Communists, are now calling Somnath Chatterjee a traitor.

CPI-M Kerala state secretary and politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan said Speaker Somnath Chatterjee was "a traitor to the party". Talking to reporters soon after CPI-M expelled Chatterjee, Vijayan said: "As a communist holding a high office, he cheated the party." Similar reactions are also coming from several senior leaders of the CPI(M). What went wrong for comrade Somnath who was a high-profile face in the Communist Party CPM for the past four decades.

On Monday, July 21 Chatterjee defied his party's diktat to continue in the Speaker's chair and preside over the two-day crucial trust vote that went against the CPI-M and was finally won by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. His ideological position that he will not vote with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against the Manmohan Singh government has added to the CPI-M's discomfiture.

Chatterjee is being ''individualistic'', say insiders in the CPI-M. They say the Cambridge University trained barrister belonged to the lot of ''successful middle-class professionals'' who signed up with the CPI-M but never made that transition to become a full-fledged ''unquestioning and disciplined soldier'' of the party.

Somnath, who gave up a promising career as a barrister, was not the homespun, grassroots comrade in the strict mould of a card holding member of the Communist party. The son of Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, who was president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, a forerunner of the current day Bharatiya Janata Party, had signed up with the CPI-M relatively late in life -- when he was 39.

The CPI-M high command in 1992 served show-cause notices to Chatterjee and his Lok Sabha colleague Saifuddin Choudhury, who was later expelled by the party. Both were charged with ''hobnobbing'' with the Congress. The CPI-M's political line then was to treat both Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as ''equal enemies''.

For Karat, Chatterjee's stand is a reaffirmation of what he always sensed. The successful barrister-turned speaker has been ill at ease with the strict code of obedience demanded by a communist party. He did yield to Karat three years ago at the CPI-M's 18th congress when he was asked to step down from the central committee following his election as Lok Sabha speaker a year earlier.

In short, Chatterjee was a 'rebel' with in the CPI-M. A parting of ways at this juncture, insiders in the CPM say, was no longer so "traumatic". For cadres of CPI(M) Somnath is just another comrade who put his red flag down to join the company of people who they call it as ' class enemies'

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