Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee died at a city hospital here on Monday morning following multiple organ failure. He was 89 years old.
“Yesterday, he suffered a heart attack and was put on a ventilator. He passed away at 8.15 am today due to multiple organ failure,” said Pradip Tandon, CEO of Belle Vue Clinic.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who visited the hospital around noon, announced that he would be given full state honours. “He was a great leader and this is a personal loss for me. His body will be taken to the Calcutta High Court and then to the state assembly, where we will give him the highest respect with a gun salute. After that, it will be taken to his house, and then to SSKM College and Hospital as he had donated his body,” she announced.
Chatterjee’s daughter, Anushila Basu, said the CPI(M) wanted to take his body to the party headquarters at Alimuddin Street, but they refused to allow it. The CPI(M) had expelled Chatterjee from the party in 2008 for refusing to resign as Speaker after it withdrew support to the UPA-I government.
“The party wanted to take the body to the state headquarters for partymen to pay their respects. They sought our permission, but we said no… CPI(M) leaders also said that they wanted to drape the party flag over his body. We refused that too. Even my mother did not want that. He was no longer a member of the party, why should his body be taken to the party office,” she said.
“I was in Delhi (when he was expelled). I told him that he was a free bird. My father asked me whether he had been showcaused. I told him the truth and, after some time, I went to see him in his chamber. I found him sitting… with tears rolling down his eyes. Just like Jyoti Basu could not become the prime minister, my father could not become the President. It happened because of some people,” she said. “We thank the state government for according him state honours. It has done the right thing and paid respect to a person who deserved it,” she added.
As senior CPI(M) leaders Biman Bose and Mohammad Salim arrived at Chatterjee’s Raja Basanta Roy Road residence, his son, Pratap, asked them to leave. “Please drive Biman Bose out of this house… They used my father all these years and now they have come to show respect,” he said. Both Salim and Bose left after a few minutes.
Pratap, however, told CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who also turned up, that he was “welcome” but he should ask the other party leaders to leave.
The CPI(M) state committee, meanwhile, adjourned its meeting on Monday as a mark of respect, and referred to Chatterjee as a comrade. “He was not in touch with the party for the last few years. However, we always maintained good relations with him. He was above the party — a person who was loved and respected by all,” said CPI(M) state secretary Surjyakanta Mishra.
Sujan Chakraborty, a CPI(M) central committee member, accompanied Chatterjee’s body through the day. “We shared very cordial relations with him. His death is an irreparable loss,” he said.
The party politburo, on the other hand, referred to Chatterjee as former Speaker and 10-time member of the Lok Sabha, not mentioning his over four-decade-long association with the party.
Declining to comment on this, Yechury said: “Today is not the day to talk about such things. We have condoled his death as a party. His death is a great loss to democracy and his guidance is what we need today. I always maintained good relations with him and his wife.”
CPI(M) workers turned up in huge numbers as they accompanied Chatterjee’s body from his residence to SSKM Hospital in the evening, singing ‘The Internationale’ along the way.
Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi and BJP MP S S Ahluwalia were among those who reached Chatterjee’s house to pay their final respects.