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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 48, November 20, 2010

The Person behind the Politics

Wednesday 24 November 2010, by Somnath Chatterjee



My association with Siddhartha Shankar Ray (1920-2010) goes back about 50-60 years. We were colleagues in court, though he was about a decade ahead when I joined the Bar. We have appeared in many cases both together and against each other. And this was to be repeated even later, as we both entered politics. Even though our parties and politics were mutually opposed, we had a very good personal relationship. In fact, he often told Jyoti Basu (who persuaded me into politics), that he had made a mistake, and that had I remained in the legal profession, I would have surely risen to the rank of Attorney General.

Ray and I had gone to the same school, Mitra Institution in Bhowanipore, and he was very committed to our old school. When I was President of the Centernary Committee, organising the event to mark a hundred years of the school’s existence, he extended us a lot of help.

We were, of course, colleagues in Parliament. And I cannot forget that the one time he left the Congress (despite being B.C. Roy’s Law Minister), he contested with Left support. Of course, he was back into the Congress fold, but he has held very important positions. I have met him when he was ambassador to the US. He has also been the Governor of Punjab—though that is perhaps a dubious distinction, given his close association with the Emergency proclamation.

But whatever his politics, he was always very kind and affectionate. We had, even recently, attended many meetings together. The last function we attended, a few months back, was the birth centenary of Dhiren Dey, the Secretary of the Mohun Began Athletic Club.

It came to be that in 1984, contesting as an Independent, he lost the Darjeeling seat. Later, he fought the by-election from Bolpur, and I was the CPM candidate facing him. As it happens, I won that seat. He said, graciously, that it was “better to lose to Somnath than to anyone else”. Our fight was limited only to our respective politics, it never crept into our personal equation, which goes back a long, long time. His wife, Maya, was also a lawyer. His sister, Manjula Bose, worked with me in my chambers. When she became one of the first women judges in the Calcutta High Court, I was very proud.

I have the sweetest memories of my long association with Ray, and I cannot but mourn his passing, and would like to pay homage to his memory. Of course, everyone has their pluses and minuses, and 1972 was a very unfortunate year for Bengal, according to me. That term, from 1972-77, did not help Bengal to develop or to have a principled political system. There was a lot of tension, and problems, and for some reason or the other, Ray could not control it. Certainly, those were not happy days, but I don’t know the extent to which he was solely responsible.

I sincerely mourn his passing.

(Courtesy: The Indian Express)

The author is a former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and was a member of the CPM from 1968 to 2008.

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