Skip to main content

A gentle communist versus a fanatic inquisitor: Somnath Chatterjee was a democratic socialist and a humanist

By Bhaskar Sur*
An age came to a close when Somnath Chatterjee (b1929), the eminent parliamentarian and former speaker of the Lok Sabha (the Lower House of Indian Parliament) breathed his last. Chatterjee had an elite, conservative background. His father NC Chatterjee was the general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, the progenitor of the present-day BJP, the fundamentalist party in power. Hindu Mahasabha was conservative, but not really a fundamentalist organization.
He was educated at Kolkata and London. It is really surprising for him to have come close to the Communist ideology and later join the CPI (Marxist) with youthful enthusiasm qualified by a barrister's legal acumen. He was elected to Parliament for no less than ten times, and in 1996 he was awarded Eminent Parliamentarian by the House. Later, in 2004, he was unanimously elected the Speaker of the House.
It seems even the BJP had a soft corner for him as the son of an illustrious father. He proved to be perhaps the best Speaker in the history of the Indian Parliament. He was always impartial, wise and witty, wielding his authority with a gentle firmness.
It also forced him to a principled 'independent and unbiased' stance against the party's diktat to vote for the reckless no-confidence motion in July 2008. He declined and was expelled by Prakash Karat, the quixotic general secretary, and his fanatic coterie inside the party. While Chatterjee rose in stature, the CPI-M was discredited, particularly in Bengal. The Left, unwittingly, paved the ground for the rise of the extreme right. The Stalinist Left has a knack for this.
This brings us to some fundamental questions about the Indian Left – its ambivalence about the parliamentary politics. As Leninists they see parliament as a pigsty, but as a part of democratic politics they reluctantly smear themselves in its filth. Their actual programme is to undermine the phony bourgeois democracy and replace it with a 'Real One’ – the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
So far I know, the CPI-M never formally rejected this dictatorial ambition; all they do is to present it under the garb of such pleasant euphemism as "People's Democracy” – the kind of democracy the Chinese enjoyed under Mao. In this hypocritical position it is really difficult to function as a good parliamentarian, committed, as one must be to democracy, Parliament and the Constitution.
The social democrats never had any such moral uneasiness as they rightly and sincerely reject dictatorship in any form and affirm their faith in democracy. This blind faith in the ability of the dictatorship to deliver and its miraculous power to solve problems make communists either hypocrites or reactionaries. Despite these severe ideological constraints, Chatterjee, like Bhupesh Gupta, Hiren Mukherjee or Jyoti Basu before him, made his mark as an outstanding parliamentarian. It is mainly because their liberal upbringing.
At his heart he knew dictatorship is a hateful and archaic thing and communists for better have to function in a democracy forcing the real issues against all odds. Now their model dictatorships have either collapsed or have got metamorphosed into corrupt plutocracies. When will communists come out of the time capsule and accept the verdict of history by formally accepting social democracy? The time is fast running out for you, comrades!
Another vital issue is related to it. Party 'ideologues", like Prakash Karat, are opposed to it. The dictatorship requires some priests – theorists and inquisitors – who rise to power through a glib tongue, chicanery and their knowledge of Communist scriptures. They need not face the benighted electors who may not elect them.
So the mundane and unrewarding task of fighting elections must be left to activists, who are with the people, or elites, mostly belonging to the upper castes, commanding respect and enjoying acceptability of the masses, who are still under Brahminical hegemony. Chatterjee belonged to the second type. People respected him, but he was never a people's man.
On his part, he never raised questions which he ought to – if we can do without the market, the Brahminical grip over the party or need to formally accept social democracy making a break with the dark, discredited dictatorial tradition. This, however, didn't prevent him to court the multinationals to invest in his home state Bengal .But then such contradictions and the resulting hypocrisies are part of the Leninist tradition .With all his compromises he had to face the party inquisition, ironically for doing the right thing .He was expelled in a most humiliating manner.
It deeply pained him, almost broke him despite the acclaim he got from a grateful nation. Karat never faced the electorate but he had the audacity to expel someone elected for ten times and a speaker at that. This is the abominable Bolshevik tradition based on falsehood, regimentation and terror. Chatterjee, besides being a democratic socialist, was also a humanist and rationalist. He donated his body to a medical collage.
Socialist salute to Comrade Chatterjee! Let his honesty, courage, commitments to democratic values and, above all, humanism inspire others in this Hour of Darkness!
---
*Source: Author's Facebook timeline

Comments

TRENDING

Missed call drive for VVPAT verification follows online plea to "pressure" poll panel

By Our Representative
Several political activists have begun a new campaign, asking concerned citizens to give a missed call on 9667655855 to “support the demand that 2019 Loksabha elections must be declared only after verification of 50% electronic voting machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) receipts.” The effort, supported by civil society networks across India, is meant to "further pressure" India's election machinery to ensure that the poll outcome becomes more transparent.

Did Modi own, buy digital camera costing Rs 7 lakh in 1987-88, also used email?

Counterview Desk
In an interview to the news channel News Nation, aired on Saturday last, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declaring that he had approved the air strike despite bad weather because he felt the clouds would hide Indian planes from Pakistani radar is known to have become a laughing stock across India.

When a neo-nationalist "invaded" hijab clad ladies, Bengali looking scholar in Delhi metro

By Aditi Kundu*
Travelling in Delhi metro on a daily basis to commute from Mayur Vihar to Dwarka, I see diverse people everyday. One can hear them talk about different aspects of life, from kitchen pilitics to national politics. On the morning of May 13, I witnessed a strange incident; disturbing and amusing at the same time.

Terror attacks: Difference in public reactions in India, those in Colombo, Christchurch

By Battini Rao*
Recently, on April 20 during Easter Sunday, more than 250 people were killed in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in churches and hotels in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Local Islamic organisations Thawheed Jamath (NJT) and Jamathei Milathu Ibrahim (JMI) are held responsible for the attack. Islamic State has also claimed responsibility.

Women lost 88 lakh jobs in 2018: Why Modi "failed" to address their disempowerment?

Counterview Desk
Five human rights leaders Anjali Bhardwaj, Shabnam Hashmi, Purnima Gupta, Dipta Bhog, and Amrita Johri of the Women March for Change have posed 56 questions (alluding to Modi’s claim of 56 inches chest) to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP against the backdrop of his interview with a Bollywood star, which was allegedly masqueraded as a “non-political” conversation.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

Disproportionately high death sentences against Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims: UN told

Counterview Desk
In their joint submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee to meet for the listing of adoption of list of issues at its 126th session, July 1-26, 2019, top Dalit rights organizations have taken strong exception to, among other things, "disproportional application of death sentencing by the judiciary of minorities, such as Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis".

Now, top Gujarat "litterateur" close to Modi says: Godse was patriot, so was Gandhi

By Rajiv Shah
A little over a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticized BJP candidate from Bhopal Pragya Thakur for calling Nathuram Godse a patriot saying he would never forgive her for the remark, a top Sangh Parivar ideologue, known to close to Modi in Gujarat, has supported her, saying her statement should be seen “within a context.” Thakur won from Bhopal by more than 3.5 lakh votes defeating her nearest rival, veteran Congressman and ex-Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh.

India's 80% construction sites "unsafe", deaths 20 times higher than those in Britain

By Rajiv Shah
The Government of India may be seeking to project India’s construction sector as the country’s second-largest employer of the country after agriculture, providing jobs to more than 44 million people, and contributing nearly 9% to the national GDP, yet, ironically, its workforce is more unprotected than any other industrial sector of the country. Data suggest that the possibility of a fatality is five times more likely in the construction industry  than in a manufacturing industry, and the risk of a major injury is 2.5 times higher.

India sans Modi preferable, Congress worthier recipient of Indians’ votes: The Economist

By Our Representative
In a strongly-worded and crucial commentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the electoral political battle is on, influential British weekly “The Economist”, has declared that “Indians, who are in the midst of voting in a fresh election, would be better off with a different leader”, even as pointing out that that under Modi, “India’s ruling party poses a threat to democracy.”