Somnath Chatterjee was among India’s tallest politicians having been elected to Lok Sabha for ten terms since 1971. He was unanimously made Speaker of the House from 2004 to 2009 during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Chatterjee was a member of the CPI(M) since 1968 and was a member of the party’s central committee. He was expelled from the party in 2008 after he refused to resign as Speaker despite the party withdrawing support from the UPA. Chatterjee passed away on Monday morning due to organ failure. He was 89.
Chatterjee, a lawyer by profession, joined politics in 1968. He was first elected to Lok Sabha in 1971 as an Independent, supported by the CPM. He joined the party the same year and remained a member till his expulsion. Chatterjee won all subsequent elections he contested for the party except in 1984, when he was defeated by Mamata Banerjee from the Jadavpur constituency.
Chatterjee was leader of his party in Lok Sabha from 1989 to 2004. He was one of the first recipients of the ‘Outstanding Parliamentarian Awards’. Initiated in 1992, he received it in 1996.
Chatterjee was the first communist to be appointed Speaker of the House in June 2004. During his time, the proceedings of Zero Hour starting being telecast live. It was also during this time that the Lok Sabha television channel came about.
In 2008, he was expelled from CPI (M) for not resigning as the Speaker after the party withdrew its support to the UPA alliance.
In 2008, Chatterjee refused to vote against the government — and in favour of the NDA — during a no-confident motion, leading to his expulsion from the CPM. He described it as “one of the saddest days” of his life. “The Speaker of Lok Sabha, like the speakers of other elected assemblies, while acting as such does not and cannot represent any political party,” he added.
I want the institution which I have been associated with to function. This is the worst period of my life
A year later, Chatterjee retired from active politics.
He is remembered as a “stalwart of Indian politics” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a “veteran parliamentarian who had a forceful presence in the House” by President Ram Nath Kovind. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi described him as “an institution”, greatly respected by parliamentarians across party lines.