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Venerable guardian of democracy

Monday, August 16, 2010

 

Keeping the Faith (Memoirs of a Parliamentarian) by Somnath Chatterjee is a work of integrity that recounts four decades of this stalwart’s presence in the Parliament and on the political scene of our country.
 
Born on July 25, 1929, Chatterjee was the youngest child in a family of three sisters and two brothers. His father was a practising vakil in the Calcutta High Court, and thanks to ill health, Chatterjee began his formal schooling only at age eleven. His mother, being the wife of the eldest son of the family, had a position of respect, which she never abused. “Whatever strength of character and commitment to principles I have been able to acquire are primarily due to my mother’s training and her steadfast adherence to discipline and love and affection for everybody in the family. I had the great fortune of growing up in an atmosphere of mutual affection, where we were taught to respect elders and our teachers…”
 
Early on in life he sensed the dangers of intolerance and religious bigotry from very close quarters. “Around this time my father became president of All India Hindu Mahasabha and presided over the Gwalior session of the party. But after Partition and after the assassination of Gandhiji, it appeared to me that he had become somewhat  disenchanted with the party’s politics.”
 
Somnath will be remembered as the peacemaker and disciplinarian the nation got to watch so many times on TV, trying to sober up irate members of Parliament and restore a sense of decorum among the benches, even as he kept censuring some of them for improper conduct.
 
His three year stay in England was to provide him with a perspective of how people ought to behave. Commenting on the general elections in England in 1951, he writes, “What fascinated me was the total absence of wasteful expenditure during canvassing. There wasn’t a single poster defacing walls, no screaming loudspeakers, no political processions.”
 
A staunch secularist, he has always felt that communal  parties are forces of divisiveness, darkness and backwardness. An invaluable book.
 
Keeping the Faith
By Somnath Chatterjee
Price Rs.499
 
 

 

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