Soon after taking over as the CPI(M) general secretary in 2015, Sitaram Yechury had called on Somnath Chatterjee. The two had lunch and the conversation invariably veered to the former Lok Sabha Speaker’s re-entry into the party, which had expelled him in 2008. Yechury was keen that Chatterjee return. And if sources are to be believed, Chatterjee also wanted to be back.
Yechury was accompanied by Surjya Kanta Mishra, secretary of the party’s West Bengal unit, which had already recommended Chatterjee’s re-induction. But there was a technical issue: the party wanted the initiative to come from Chatterjee.
Yechury, sources said, had thus urged Chatterjee to write to the party, expressing his interest to return. “That letter never came,” a senior CPI(M) leader said.
The impression among party leaders in New Delhi is that Chatterjee’s family was against him writing to the party and urging it to re-induct him. “They felt why should he write a letter. They were apparently of the view that the party should re-induct him since it had expelled him,” a senior leader said.
Before that meeting, Chatterjee and Yechury had, in July 2015, shared the dais at a function to mark the 102nd birth anniversary of former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu. Yechury had then urged Chatterjee to join hands and work together for upholding secularism and democracy in the country.
Yechury’s ascent to the party’s top post had kindled hope among Bengal unit leaders about Chatterjee’s return, as the two shared a very cordial relationship. Chatterjee had always singled out Prakash Karat, Yechury’s predecessor, for attack following his expulsion from the party in 2008 after he refused to toe the party line and resign as Lok Sabha Speaker ahead of the trust vote.
Karat was then the CPI(M) general secretary.
On Monday, after Chatterjee’s death, Yechury lavished praise on him but refused to comment on the efforts behind the scenes to bring the veteran Marxist back to the party.
Expressing its grief and sorrow at his death, the CPI(M) Politburo issued a statement that bore no mention of his contributions to the party; neither was he addressed as “comrade”.
It merely stated, “Somnath Chatterjee was a veteran parliamentarian who played an important role in defending the foundations of the Indian Constitution, particularly its secular democratic foundations and federalism. As an eminent lawyer by profession, he also took up the cause of the working class and the deprived to ensure justice is delivered to them.”
In contrast, the CPI national secretariat referred to him as comrade and remembered him as “one of the outstanding leaders of Indian Left and Communist movement.” Pointing out that Chatterjee was one of the best Parliamentarians and the first communist to become the Speaker of Lok Sabha, the CPI stated that his demise is a “great loss for the Indian Left, and for the Parliamentary democratic setup”.
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