Today's Paper

Consensus likely on Somnath as Speaker

NEW DELHI, JUNE 1. There are strong indications of a consensus over the choice of the veteran parliamentarian and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, Somnath Chatterjee, for the post of Lok Sabha Speaker. A senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader indicated to The Hindu here today that the Opposition parties had given up the idea of forcing a contest and had agreed to facilitate the unanimous election of Mr. Chatterjee.

The breakthrough came after the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, met the BJP leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, and the Janata Dal (United) leader, George Fernandes, and offered the post of Deputy Speaker to the Opposition. "In all likelihood, both the Speaker and the Deputy speaker will be elected unanimously," the BJP leader said adding that his party had not yet finalised the name of its candidate for the post of Deputy Speaker.

The 74-year-old Mr. Chatterjee is the senior most member of the Lok Sabha, having first entered the House in 1971 from Burdwan in West Bengal. He indicated today that one of his priorities would be to restore the prestige of Parliament and to undo the negative public perception about parliamentarians. "The perception that Members of Parliament use the forum for their personal aggrandisement must be changed," he said.

Mr. Chatterjee plans to open up the parliamentary committee meetings to the media, at least at the stage of collecting evidence. He is also for allowing live television coverage of the proceedings, even during interruptions.

He believes that fora such as the Public Accounts Committee form the bedrock of the parliamentary system and that there should never be a repetition of the events witnessed after the tabling of the previous committee's report by its chairman, Buta Singh. Having been on the Opposition benches all his life, Mr. Chatterjee feels that most problems in Parliament could be avoided if the Opposition benches get a chance to air their views. "To feel throttled or ignored is the worst kind of feeling. The Opposition may have to be pampered if necessary," he said.