Somnath Chatterjee followed conscience above ideology: PM

Releasing Chatterjee's book "Keeping the Faith: Memoirs of a Parliamentarian" here, the prime minister said that one of the issues that faces the Indian polity was how to make the functioning of parliament more effective and meaningful. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar were also present at the function.

"I wish to commend the book to readers to understand a man of extraordinary talent and integrity, who believes in keeping the faith in the fundamental values that have made our republic great, who is deeply committed to preserving the institutions of our republic and who has risen above his party and his ideology to do what he believes is right. May his tribe increase," Manmohan Singh said.

Noting he had differing views with Chatterjee on various issues, he said that these differences in political ideology never came in the way of the close and fruitful personal association.  "The fact that the heat of debate in parliament is often matched by the warmth of personal relationships among leaders cutting across party lines is a real strength of Indian democracy," he said.

The prime minister said Chatterjee's book was a very important contribution to political history as witnessed from one side of the political spectrum. Recalling the respect he paid to Chatterjee on his last day as speaker February last year, the prime minister said: "In transacting business in this parliament, you set yourself as a role model. We strained your patience and at times even your conscience. There were unusual times in which you had to take a call between defending parliamentary propriety and heeding the demands of the organisation that you had spent a lifetime building.  On all such occasions your sagacity prevailed. You stood like a rock to defend our best parliamentary traditions, and in doing so have raised the bar for those to follow...."

Stressing Chatterjee’s finest hour in his long and distinguished political career was as speaker of the Lok Sabha, he said that he had many achievements and record of public service over four decades.

He said that the book explores some of these issues and also enumerates the many initiatives Chatterjee took during his tenure including increase in inter-parliamentary contacts, strengthening of parliamentary committee system and start of Lok Sabha TV channel.

He also recalled he got his graduate degree at convocation in Amritsar about 60 years ago from Chatterjee's father, N.C. Chatterjee. In his remarks, Chatterjee termed the decision of Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to expel him from the party for not stepping down as speaker ahead of the trust vote in 2008 following Left's withdrawal of support to United Progressive Alliance over the Indo-US Nuclear Treaty as "indeed very sad".   

He however said that he did not question the decision or seek its review though there were provisions to do so. Thanking the CPI-M for fielding him 11 times in elections, Chatterjee said they found it had "become unsuitable" to have him with them. Chatterjee also said that elected representatives should constantly strive to change the situation for better and should not forget that people occupy central place in a democracy.

Recalling his interaction with a group of school students who said that they did not want to join politics, he urged MPs to consider the question of "where are we going".
"I am proud of intellect of our young boys and girls. If they avoid parliament, who will bring about a change," he said. He recalled he had entered Parliament in 1971 in the heydays of Indira Gandhi and sought to learn from all leading political leaders.

The former speaker paid tributes to his parents and former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu and said that money from the royalty of the book will go to a trust he had set up in memory of his parents for welfare of tribals. The book has been brought out by HarperCollins India.

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