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

Mystery around Gujarat PSU 'transfer' of Rs 250 crore to Canadian firm Karnalyte

By AK Luke, IAS (Retd)*
While returning from a Board meeting of the Oil India Limited (OIL) in Ahmedabad some time in 2012, two officers of the Gujarat State Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd (GSFC), Nanavaty and Patel,  saw me off at the airport. They said they were proceeding to Canada in connection with a project GSFC had entered into with a company there. As we were running late, I hastily wished them the best.

Indians have made 119 nations their ‘karma bhumi’: US-based Hindu NGO tells Rupani

Counterview Desk
In a stinging letter to Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, the US-based Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), referring to the report citing his justification for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – that “while Muslims can choose any one of the 150 Islamic countries in the world (for residence), India is the only country for Hindus" – has said, he should remember, Hindus have made several countries, including USA, their home.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad 'declared' two-nation theory in 1937, Jinnah followed 3 years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

J&K continues to be haunted, as parts of India 'degenerate' into quasi-Kashmir situation

By Rajendran Narayanan*, Sandeep Pandey**
“Jab har saans mein bandook dikhe toh baccha kaise bekhauf rahe?” (How can a child be fearless when she sees a gun in every breath?) remarked Anwar, a gardener from Srinagar, when asked about the situation in Kashmir. On November 30, 2019, a walk through an iron gate in a quiet neighbourhood of Srinagar took us inside a public school. It was 11 am when typically every school is abuzz with activity. Not here though.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam*
RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Tata Mundra's possible closure? Power ministry's 'pressure tactic' on consumer states

By Bharat Patel*
Tata power has announced to the Union Ministry of Power that Tata Power may be forced to stop operating  its imported coal-based Mundra Ultra-Mega Power Project (UMPP) after February, 2020. It is not only unfortunate but also criminal that irreversible damage has been caused to the fragile ecosystem of Mundra coast for a project that will have a running life of only seven years.

Population control? 10% Indian couples want to delay next pregnancy, but fail

Counterview Desk
Shireen Jejeebhoy, director at Aksha Centre for Equity and Wellbeing, previously senior associate at the Population Council, India, argues that the debate on the country's population was fuelled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day address to the nation, where he drew attention to “concern” about the challenges posed by this ‘exploding’ population growth, needs to centre around the promotion of rights and education, instead of the language of explosion and the threat of coercion that this term implies.

Savarkar 'opposed' Bhagat Singh's, Netaji's dream of India, supported British war efforts

By Shamsul Islam*
In a shocking development, the student wing of the RSS put the busts of martyrs Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose with Savarkar's on one pedestal at the University of Delhi late in the night on August 20, 2019. Bhagat Singh sacrificed his life for a socialist-democratic-secular republic and Netaji raised Azad Hind Fauj (INA) consisting of people of all religions and regions for armed liberation of India.

Gandhi's grandson, Khudai Khidmatgar chief among advisers to US Hindu rights group

By Our Representative
The Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), a US-wide advocacy organization claiming to be committed to the "ideals of multi-religious pluralism in the United States, India and beyond", advocate peace, justice and human rights of all communities from a Hindu perspective, has declared it has appointed a group of advisors, including Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Rajmohan Gandhi.