Jyoti Basu – The people’s leader

Former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, who is regarded as a pioneer among Leftist leaders in India, breathed his last on January 17. He was 95.

Ritesh K Srivastava

Former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, who is regarded as a pioneer among Leftist leaders in India, breathed his last on January 17. He was 95. With his demise, the Communist Party has for sure lost one of the greatest torchbearers of its ideology.

The veteran Socialist leader was put on ventilator support on January 01 following complaints of respiratory problem resulting due to acute pneumonia.

Early Life

Basu was born to a middle-class Bengali family in Calcutta on July 8, 1914. The boy, named Jyotirindra Basu, was rechristened Jyoti Basu when he started schooling at St Xavier`s Collegiate School.

After graduating from Presidency College with an honours degree, Basu went to the United Kingdom to study law, where he was introduced to the Communist Party of Great Britain. It was in these formative years there that he embraced Marxism.

His association with the Communist leaders helped him witness the twists and turns and understand triumphs/failures of the Communist movement, and it’s relevance to India`s grassroots problems.

After his return to India in 1940, Basu joined the Communist Party of India, where he took up a leading role in trade union activities.

Political Career

The political career of this Left stalwart officially took off when he was elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1946.

During the first five years after his election to Bengal Legislative Assembly, Basu earned a reputation of a ‘fearless leader’ and impressed his seniors and contemporary politicians.

His impressive record, rising popularity among the masses and his relentless commitment for his people fetched him the title of a ‘gutsy crusader’ by Nikhil Chakraborty, a senior political columnist, who saw in him, the potential of a great leader in the making.

The year 1964 was a turning point in Basu’s political career. This year the Communist Party of India split in two and Basu became one of the first key nine members of the Politburo of the newly-formed Communist Party of India (Marxist).

With the passage of time, Basu scaled newer heights in the politics of West Bengal and held the reigns as the Chief Minister from 1977 to 2000. His two-decade long tenure as the Chief Minister also made Basu the country’s longest-serving Chief Minister.

For his leadership skills, his ability to avert crisis, his excellent oratory skills, he was admired even by his staunch political rivals from the Congress and the BJP.

Despite the ideological and political differences between Congress and the CPI (M), Mani Shakar Aiyar once hailed Basu as an `extraordinary` Chief Minister.

Basu’s Tenure

During his two-decade long stint as the Chief Minister, Basu had an uninterrupted rule and was literally the uncrowned king of West Bengal. Basu not only managed to silence his political opponents but also succeeded in keeping the opposition at bay. Basu’s pro-people policies played a pivotal role in the rapid development and industrialisation of the state including -the civic cleanups, surplus power, a flurry of investments. Basu dreamt of classless society and worked throughout his life to convert West Bengal a peaceful and progressive state.

However, despite so many achievements, the picture in Basu’s West Bengal is sill not rosy. The rate of unemployment is high and the number of educated but jobless persons has shot up in the recent years. The shabby maintenance of power plants, rising incidents of power theft, delay in sanctioning new connections and red tapism still mars the rapid expansion of the state’s industrial sector. Despite surplus power, only 76.8% of the villages have power against the national average of 86.4% which puts the state in the same league as Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh.

Basu faced criticism for not encouraging open debate about his government’s performance and women, in particular, had no say in party’s affair and governance. Allegations of high-handedness and corruption were levelled against his son Chandan, and a top official posted in his secretariat. The top bureaucrats who served during his tenure, often worked under tremendous political pressure.

In his distinguished career, the veteran Marxist leader nearly missed the opportunity of becoming the Prime Minister in 1996, when CPI (M) Politburo committed a “historic blunder” by deciding not to participate in the government. He recently gave indications that one of people mainly responsible for holding them back was Prakash Karat.

Political Retirement

Meanwhile with age slowly catching up, in 2000 Basu retired from Chief Ministership of West Bengal purely due to the health reasons. However, the announcement of retirement was not easy for Basu, considering his immense popularity among the people of West Bengal and his iconic stature.

So the CPM stalwart opted for a slow exit from active politics and started grooming his confidant Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who later became Chief Minister of the state.

Although, Basu kept a low profile since retiring from the political scene in 2000, he kept working as the chief patron of the Communist party and formulating strategies for the future. In a recent incidence of significance, it was Jyoti Basu who took the more pragmatic approach when it came to deciding on Dr Manmohan Singh’s Indo-US nuclear deal, even while the leaders sitting in Delhi remained hell bent on belligerence. His support to the deal was a classic example of how the veteran leader was not a prisoner of dogma. Unfortunately, he no longer enjoyed a decisive say.

However, his health further declined in 2008 and he requested CPI(M) to allow his retirement.

Since 2009, Basu was battling with illness. He was first hospitalised in July 2009 when he complained of breathing problems. Beginning 2010, illness came back top plague him and on January 1, 2010, he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia.

His demise has created a void not just in the Communist fraternity, but the country too has lost a visionary leader, a great administrator and a good human being.

For the people of West Bengal, Basu will be remembered as a man, who sincerely practiced democracy and provided a stable government after a decade of alleged misrule by Congress. He was probably the last of an era when people from affluent backgrounds gave up everything and entered politics with an aim of improving the lives of millions of poverty-struck Indians.

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