Oct 10, 2008

Fun - Touchy,Feely

Indrajit Hazra

The thought of our beloved Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee being patted down by an airport security official boggles the mind. For one, there’s a lot of patting down to do. For another, to suspect Chatterjee — the defender of parliamentary faith even against his own party folks — of stashing something unwholesome on his body is akin to harbouring the thought that Osama bin Laden may be taking swigs from a hip flask between recording his jihad tapes.

In a frightful rage — that manifested in a dust storm in his constituency of Bolpur in faraway Nano-less West Bengal — Chatterjee cancelled his plans to fly to London where he was to attend an official engagement. Last time he cancelled a flight — to Sydney in 2005 — he was again about to be frisked. What is it about Somnath Chatterjee that makes security personnel want to touch his body?

As the Speaker has carefully explained, he cancelled the trip “because it involves the honour of the constitutional office”. Feeling the armpits of India’s Lok Sabha Speaker is feeling the armpits of India. And considering the fact that the Indian High Commission in London had written to the nattering mandarins at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office that Somnath Chatterjee Esq be exempted from frisking — multi-cultural London isn’t that clued in about cultural mores of a different society — Chatterjee’s patriotic gesture demands applause even from trained and gloved hands.

There’s an insidious plot to still legitimise the insult meted out to Somnath-babu. An international security guideline has been trotted out to defend the right to frisk him (“only Heads of States are exempted”). It’s true that airports around the world — British ones included — haven’t always patted him down. And it’s true that the rulebook states that security checks can — rather than must — be conducted on non-Heads of States like Chatterjee.

But the point that needs to be made is that Chatterjee, in keeping with maintaining the honour of his current constitutional post, should now be made a Head of State. In fact, if his old pals in the CPI(M) had not blocked his candidature as President of India, it would have been Pratibha Patil who would have been frisked on that humiliating day earlier this month at the airport.

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