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Sinecure for Somnath

Sinecure for Somnath

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: October 5, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/206719/Sinecure-for-Somnath.html

He just won't retire gracefully

The Congress's desire to reward Mr Somnath Chatterjee with a suitable sinecure is understandable. As Lok Sabha Speaker between 2004 and 2009, Mr Chatterjee was unconscionably prejudiced. His attempts to censor Opposition and media criticism, with the larger aim of protecting the UPA Government, are well-documented. After the Left Front withdrew support from the Manmohan Singh Government, Mr Chatterjee turned rebel and refused to quit as Speaker, as asked by his party, the CPI(M). Instead, he allowed the Congress to survive a contentious vote of confidence, tainted by charges of bribery. If Mr Chatterjee's dissent against Mr Prakash Karat had been principled and aimed at a reordering of the Marxist worldview or an upholding of British parliamentary tradition, it would have been unexceptionable. He was, however, no conscientious objector. Essentially, he wanted to hang on to the privileges of the Speaker's post. In the period after the vote of confidence, Mr Chatterjee lost that crucial attribute that makes or breaks a politician: Credibility. He became a nowhere person - shunned by his party, hanging on to the coat-tails of the Congress, and unable to convince the BJP and other Opposition parties of his neutrality or supposed statesmanship. He made much of not being re-nominated by the CPI(M) for the Lok Sabha election, announced he was retiring and would be writing his autobiography.

Yet, nothing that Mr Chatterjee says or does can ever be taken at face value. He has refused to walk away from the charmed circle of New Delhi and live a secluded life in one of his many palatial properties in Kolkata. Instead, his friends in the Government have been pushing for some sort of reward for 'services' rendered. It was first suggested that Mr Chatterjee be sent to the Rajya Sabha as a presidential nominee, in the 'eminent persons' category. This would have been most unorthodox, as veteran, multi-term parliamentarians don't usually use this route to seek an entry into the Upper House. It is reserved for achievers - in the arts and sciences, in public life - who are not everyday politicians. When there was protest against this proposal, a new scheme was thought up. The Government decided it wanted him to head a one-man commission to "de-codify parliamentary privileges". No doubt, this office would have come with the usual pomp and allowed Mr Chatterjee Cabinet-level perquisites. Yet, as the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mr LK Advani, pointed out, the task of clarifying privileges could easily be taken up by a parliamentary committee. There was no need to invite Mr Chatterjee to impose himself yet again as an ombudsman.

As it seems, this is not the end of the matter. A job for Mr Chatterjee is still a quest for the UPA Government. Reportedly, he does not want to become a State Governor, but is willing to consider a foreign posting in a city or country of his choice. In his heart of hearts, he is also hoping that electoral reverses in West Bengal will force the CPI(M) to take him back. There is a polite phrase for such a phenomenon: Delusion of grandeur. Frankly, Mr Chatterjee's desperation and - dare one say it - lust for office are a national embarrassment. He should go quietly into the night, perhaps taking the newly-introduced Duronto Express to Kolkata.

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