Somnath Chatterjee’s funeral was a grand procession, with many of the political leaders paying their tributes and condolences to the family.
But the Chatterjee family was angry with the CPM and refused their flag to placed on Somnath Chatterjee’s body
The death of Somnath Chatterjee on Monday and the day-long events that followed have opened up a Pandora’s Box the former Lok Sabha Speaker would most likely have frowned down upon.
As his body was taken to three locations in Kolkata that mattered to him – Calcutta High Court, the West Bengal Assembly and his south Kolkata home – members of the CPM tried to play an active role in organizing the funeral march. The 89-year-old was expelled by the CPM despite representing the political party in Lok Sabha for almost 40 years.
A sour note was struck at the Assembly where Chatterjee’s body lay in the state when his daughter responded with some hostility.
Asked if her family would accede to the CPM’s request to take his body to the party office at Alimuddin Street in central Kolkata for the last respects, Anushila Bose said: “no and no” with great emphasis.
She said her mother and her brother had refused to let either Somnath Chatterjee’s body be taken to Alimuddin Street where the headquarters of West Bengal unit of the CPM is situated. Or allow the party to drape his body in their red flag.
“We had seen how badly he was hurt when he was expelled from the party. I remember tears rolling down his face that day. So, no. No need to take him the CPM office,” said Anushila Bose.
Worse was to follow at Somnath Chatterjee’s home where his body was laid at rest for the last farewell. CPM politburo member Biman Bose arrived there with the party’s general secretary. But Somnath Chatterjee’s son Pratap burst out saying, “Biman Bose, please leave. You are not welcome here.”
A roomful of stunned people waited for CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury to finish laying the wreaths on the body and left hurriedly.
Biman Bose told reporters outside, “I don’t mind his behavior. He is completely broken by the loss of his father.”
Yechury played down the snub saying, “This is a tragedy, not a time to get in right now. At times emotions will be frayed. Here is the time we are noting the achievements he made…”
The CPM leaders were clearly having a bad day. Because after Bose left the house, Pratap Chatterjee continued his outburst, naming several top CPM leaders. “I have no problems with party workers who made my father what he is. But people like Biman Bose and others only used him,” he said.
The incident has angered CPM workers who stayed with the body till the end and marched with the hearse all the way to Kolkata’s SSKM hospital, singing “international anthem”.
In the middle of this bitter drama, another controversy – this one within the CPM – unfolded. The CPM issued a condolence message in which they did not use the term Comrade before Somnath Chatterjee’s name. The official message did not have any reference to his association with the party either.
The Bengal unit of the CPM issued a separate resolution in which Somnath Chatterjee was consistently referred to as “Comrade Somnath Chatterjee” and his role as a 10-time parliamentarian was lavishly praised.
Most supporters of the Left party in Bengal see the difference between the central and state unit as unfortunate soon after the death of a man who was so closely associated with the party.