ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Somnath Chatterjee (1929–2018)

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Few political leaders, not having held any high executive position—as chief minister in a state or union cabinet minister—have been remembered as fondly, or by so many, as was Somnath Chatterjee, on his death at the age of 89. Silent mourners from all walks of life assembled spontaneously to pay their last respects to him in Kolkata; they were not the ones “arranged” by any political party. Let me recount a few incidents to portray this gentleman, whose public life has already been widely discussed. 

After I was inducted as a joint secretary in the newly created department of disinvestment, the first major public sector unit was privatised in 2001, causing an uproar that continued until the process was finally approved by the Supreme Court. The government had been attacked in Parliament, and case after case filed in the higher courts against this decision. Chatterjee was spearheading the attack in the Lok Sabha, as a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)— CPI(M). Because I had known him personally (a close relative had married within his family), some of my colleagues and superiors began to doubt my loyalties, causing a great deal of personal embarrassment. But, never during this process of privatisation, or later, did he ever ask me for even a bit of information, public or private. In fact, this topic was never discussed between us. We were both playing our roles: he, an astute parliamentarian diligently following his party line, and I, a professional civil servant adhering to my svadharma. What mattered most was personal integrity, from which grew mutual respect. Our relationship began to deepen thereafter.

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Updated On : 28th Mar, 2019

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