Now Mamata Banerjee re-christens projects named after Left leader Jyoti Basu

By Madhuparna Das, ET Bureau
Updated: Oct 15, 2017, 11.56 PM IST

KOLKATA: In August, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress emerged as the most vocal critic in Parliament of the Centre’s proposal to rename the Mughalsarai station. In just two months after those protests, her government in West Bengal appears to be on a mission to re-christen state projects, and delink them from their Communist past.

The foundation stone of the Salt Lake stadium, laid by the late Jyoti Basu, the longest serving Left Front CM, has been removed from the main entry to the Kolkata sporting arena that’s hosting the U-17 soccer world cup. Banerjee has also changed the name of a water treatment plant from the Jyoti Basu Jal Prakalpa to Jai Hind Jal Prakalpa.

Her government has also removed Basu’s name from the planned satellite city of Newtown, and did not hand over a plot of land to the CPIM that bought the property to build a research and study centre on Basu and the Communist movement in West Bengal. In the renaming spree, she appears to have spared only Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin - as of now. In downtown Kolkata, important roads were named after the greatest Communist thinkers when the Left Front ruled West Bengal uninterruptedly for 34 years.

These are among the more visible moves to end the Communist legacy. More subtle, however, are the Left defections that the Trinamool has successfully engineered in the past five years.

Simultaneously, her government has been quietly changing the history syllabus to dilute the textbook portrayals of the international Communist movement. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and other Communist thinkers are now given limited space in the school and college curriculum, and her government has replaced the Left thought with chapters on the freedom struggle and the movements at Nandigram and Singur.

The Bengal government has also replaced street art and murals with the logo of Biswa Bangla, a state initiative that seeks to burnish the state’s allure as an investment destination. Understandably, the moves have invited criticism from the Opposition.

Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, former mayor of Kolkata, said: “How can a government destroy history? One might love or hate a particular idea, but how can one try to omit or alter history? If the present regime has something to say, it should add to the existing literature. But a government should always maintain historical reality. Banerjee’s government has removed all plates and foundation stones that had the names of her predecessors Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. This is pure autocracy.”


`She makes me a bad Marxist, makes me believe in godliness'

Saugata Roy | TNN | Sep 5, 2016, 04.29 PM IST

A Marxist, Jyoti Basu stayed way from the funeral mass at Netaji Indoor Stadium, but attended mother's last journey.

How do a Catholic and a communist get along,"people often wondered while discussing the mu tual respect that Mother Teresa and Jyoti Basu had for each other. Basu was a Communist and atheist. Mother was a Catholic nun with an unflinching belief in God. Yet, Basu's doors were always open for Mother, who used to call on the chief minister at Writers' Buildings without hesitation. Once, she was even allowed to interrupt a cabinet meeting because she needed to meet Basu urgently. "We share a love for the poor," Basu would say in reply to the query. In his book on the Mother, `Messiah of the Poor', B K Chaturvedi quotes Basu as saying: "She makes me a bad Marxist since she makes me believe in godliness."

When Mother addressed Basu, she would prefix `My friend' before she took his name. The mutual understanding has a parallel in Cuba, where Fidel Castro in 1992 welcomed churchgoing Catholics to join the Communist Party of Cuba, shunning the "atheist" tag on communists. Known as a liberal among Mar xists, Basu didn't give up his Marxist identity though. He stayed away from the Mass before Mother's last journey at Netaji Indoor Stadium, where dignitaries like US First Lady Hillary Clinton, opposition leader Atal Behari Vajpayee had assembled to pay tribute. Basu joined the programme only after the Missionaries of Charity spokesperson announced in the stadium: "The Mother will now begin her last journey".

A retired state bureaucrat recoun ted how Basu worked from behind to give Mother Teresa a fitting farewell.He micro-managed the entire programme and also gave the Missionaries of Charity the go-ahead to keep her remains at Mother House, something that usually doesn't happen under the law.

In the book `Seeking Christ in the Crosses & Joys of Aging', Ronda Chervin recounts an incident when Basu called up the Mother asking her to provide a home for some destitute women who were languishing in prison for the want of a better place. She immediately took in 40 and provi sions were made to build a home for them on the land provided by the government.

Former election commissioner Navin Chawla, who was Mother's biographer, recounts how on one occasion when Mother was visiting Delhi, she fell ill and had to be admitted to a hospital. For a week that she was there, Chawla recalls, Basu called every day . When she was hospitalised in Kolkata, Basu would discreetly drop by and speak to the doctors.

It must be sheer providence that Mother House and Pramode Dasgupta Marxist Education Centre exist cheek by jowl. While the former was Mother Teresa's residence and continues to be the nunnery where relatively new entrants to the Missionaries of Charity are trained, the latter is, as the name suggests, a centre that trains comrades.

Basu and Mother Teresa: a special association

January 19, 2010

A file photo of 1994 shows veteran Communist leader and former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu with Mother Teresa at a function in Kolkata.

As Kolkata mourns and prepares for the “shesh jatra” (final journey) of veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu on Tuesday, many are reminded of a public funeral more than a decade ago, when Mr. Basu, as the West Bengal Chief Minister, came to offer a wreath to Mother Teresa to sustained applause from a stadium full of people.

“The special association between Jyoti Basu and Mother Teresa was marked by a mutual admiration that they felt for each other. As far as Mr. Basu was concerned, there were standing instructions that should she ever seek an appointment with him, there was to be no delay,” said Joykrishno Ghosh, a personal aide of Mr. Basu since 1977.

Mr. Basu always tried to be supportive of her work and personally oversaw the arrangements for her funeral, Mr. Ghosh said.

“She makes me a bad Marxist since she makes me believe in godliness,” is what Mr. Basu reportedly remarked after one of their frequent meetings, according to Messiah of the Poor, a book on the life of Mother Teresa by B. K. Chaturvedi.

The remarkable, if somewhat paradoxical relationship between the Catholic nun, now known as Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, and the committed Communist leader is well known and widely written about.

In the book, Seeking Christ in the Crosses & Joys of Aging, Ronda Chervin recounts an incident when Mr. Basu called up Mother Teresa asking her to provide a home for some destitute women who were languishing in prison for the want of a better place. She immediately took in 40 of them and provisions were made to build a home for them on the land provided by the government.

Mother Teresa was once allowed to interrupt a Cabinet meeting when she needed to meet Mr. Basu urgently, film-maker T. Rajeevnath, who has been planning a film on the life of Mother Teresa over the past few years, told The Hindu over the telephone.

“A year ago I was surprised to receive a call from Jyoti Basu’s secretary. Jyoti Babu had read media reports about my film and called me up to assure me that the whole of Bengal will be with me if I made my film. Such was his regard for her,” Mr. Rajeevnath said. 

JYOTI BASU & MOTHER TERESA: An unusual friendship

THE HINDU, January 19, 2010 02:08 IST

Mother Teresa invariably prefixed "my friend" before she took Jyoti Basu's name.

Asked what he, a Communist and atheist, could possibly have in common with Mother Teresa for whom God was everything, Jyoti Basu said with a smile: “We both share a love for the poor.”

The Hindu requested Navin B. Chawla, Chief Election Commissioner of India and Mother Teresa’s biographer, to share his insights into the remarkable friendship between Jyoti Basu and the founder of the Missionaries of Charity:

During the course of writing a biography on Mother Teresa, I asked Chief Minister Jyoti Basu what he, a Communist and atheist, could possibly have in common with Mother Teresa for whom God was everything. With a smile that reached his eyes, he said: “We both share a love for the poor.” For her part, Mother Teresa invariably prefixed the words “My friend” before she took his name.

From the legendary Chief Minister of West Bengal, Dr. B.C. Roy, who first recognised her work, to the equally legendary Jyoti Basu who was always available to her when she needed him, Mother Teresa’s work in the city that was beloved of her, could not have been possible to the extent it was without their understanding and their support. It is not that the Missionaries of Charity did not spread their wings to almost 600 centres in 123 countries around the world. It is that Kolkata was her epicentre, the city she identified as her home.

On one occasion when Mother Teresa was visiting Delhi, she fell ill and had to be admitted to a city hospital. For a week that she was there, I was at her bedside and also became her link to the besieged hospital switchboard; there were no mobile phones in those days. With unfailing regularity, Jyoti Basu rang each day to enquire after her health. When I once told him that she repetitively said to me, “Let me go back to Kolkata, I will be all right there,” he laughed understandingly.
On another occasion, when she was admitted to the Woodlands Nursing Home in Kolkata, I saw him enter without fuss, meet Doctor Bardhan and the Sisters, make an enquiry and quietly leave. One of Mother Teresa’s senior-most companions, Sister Gertrude, said to me: “He does not miss a single day.”

In turn, whenever he was unwell, she would visit him in the nursing home or at his house, say a prayer and leave. The good wishes of the one and the prayers of the other complemented each other both in sickness and in health.

On one of my visits to Kolkata, Mother Teresa asked me whether I had been to Tengra. She explained that the Chief Minister had asked her to take charge of about 400 women inmates of the Kolkata jail, many of whom had been undertrials for long years; others were mentally ill. In her practical way, she asked him for some land. He gave her about 11 acres in Tengra, near the leather tanneries.

When I visited it, she had already created a haven of peace and tranquillity. Just four of her Sisters had taken charge. The women were finally at peace. Tengra was a visible demonstration that both spoke the same language.

In July of 1997, when I was a mere Joint Secretary in the government, I sought an appointment with the then Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister; I do not know what made me do it. I told him that Mother Teresa was very sick and did not have much time left to live. Having nursed her once in Delhi, I had also become distantly acquainted with the halls of power that called with unfailing regularity seeking a health bulletin.

I knew that many of these callers would come to her funeral, and there could be a protocol nightmare. I added that no matter where she passed away, the Sisters would bring her to Kolkata for her burial there. “Leave it with me,” he said adding that he would need to be in touch with Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, as he would need to look into all the arrangements.

She died about two months later on September 5 that year. I was told later that Jyoti Basu had been alerted some weeks earlier. When my family and I attended the memorial service and the funeral in Kolkata, everything went off like clock work.

Later on, my batchmate and friend S.N. Menon, Secretary to the Chief Minister, told me of the correspondence and work that began at the West Bengal end. During the first part of the actual ceremony, where religious rites were also being administered, Jyoti Basu chose not to be present. Like a good communist, he entered at exactly the moment when these ended, and the civic part of the ceremony began. But I saw his imprint in every last detail.

And when at the very last, the Missionaries of Charity Sisters asked for special permission to bury Mother Teresa at Motherhouse, her headquarters at Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Road, that permission too he accorded.

He gave his friend Mother Teresa a befitting farewell. 


Somnath Chatterjee inaugurates an exhibition of portraits and sketches on Jyoti Basu

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee inaugurates an exhibition of portraits and sketches on Jyoti Basu at the Academy of Fine Arts on Tuesday.
The event, that was held to commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of Basu, will continue for a week.
"Jyotibabu is the tallest example in politics of how to serve people. People might have at times thought that he was a very reserved person. But having worked closely with him, I have seen how intense his feelings and emotions for people were. Jyoti Basu used to say politics was the only way to serve the masses. He did politics by putting his heart into it," Chatterjee said.


Jyoti Basu: An energizing Communist

By V. S. Achyuthanandan

I am having the fortune to cherish the fond memories of Com. Jyoti Basu that spread over half a century. Being  members of the Polit Bureau  and Central Committee of the CPI(M), we had been able to work together during different occasions on various issues. Jyoti Basu was a clear-cut example of a communist leader. How a communist should behave in life as well as in struggles is evident in the personality of Com. Jyoti Basu. When he was in ill bed I visited him at his residence and in hospital more than once. On that occasions, irrespective of his ill health, we have exchanged and recollected our old memories for a long time. That was also last memorable movements in our friendship. One of those occasions, I proudly recollect, he told me that “you are a good fighter and  still  you have enough strength & courage  to continue the fight  for people’s cause.” 

We all know he was born and brought up in an affluent family.  And he could attain the higher  education from London.   So, he could have led a comfortable life. But, it is discarding all these fortunes that he became a staunch fighter of the working class movement in the country.

It’s a fact that his life at London helped him have association with  Prof. Harold Lasky and many other  left thinkers,  later on paved way for him to  have close connection with the  anti-fascist & working class movements. When Basu returned home, the fire he got from the anti- imperialist & fascist movement in London helped him plunge into the turbulent turmoil’s  of  freedom struggle.  As a communist leader, he was always  with the toiling masses. The  problem they faced, he took them as his own. For their cause, he was ready to take  any risk. And gradually he grew up to the stature of a great leader. Struggles, under-ground life, arrests, conviction – all these were part and parcel of his life, exactly in tune with the life of a true communist.

His life was, in its full sense, committed to the people and the nation. So, personal sorrows never annoyed him. At the time of the death his father, Basu was in Dum Dum Central jail. So he could not have a look at his father before he breathed his last.  But the communist in Basu was strong enough to bear all these heart-renting moments.

It was in 1958 that I came to have personal association with Com. Basu when I became the national council member  of the undivided Communist Party of India. During that time great are the memories we experienced together in fighting relentlessly against revisionism  in the party. It was the leadership quality  of Com. Basu that  succeeded in keeping the comrades in West Bengal in tune with the parties correct line.

Ultimately in 1964, 32 comrades staged a walk-out permanently from the national council  of CPI and later on CPI(M) was formed. And  Com. Basu was one among those 32 comrades. At present, myself is the only one among those 32 comrades  who is alive today.

In the Vijayawada Congress in 1961, we fought strongly inside the party against the rightist deviations under Dange. At that time Jyothi Basu was well in the fore-front of this struggle along with Comrades Basava Punnaiah and  P Sundarayiah. And Jyoti Basu had alone done a marvelous job in making meticulous arrangements for the first organizational conference which marked the formation of the CPI(M) in 1964 in Kolkota. 

The Bengal People are greatly indebted  to Com. Jyoti Basu for establishing a left-front government in West Bengal  emancipating the state from the tyrannical Congress rule led by late  Sidhartha Sanker Ray. In this fight, he remained on a par with Comrades Pramod Das Gupta, Saroj Mukharjee and Binoy Chowdhari etc.

After this, under his agile leadership he could lead Bengal to prosperity for a period of three decades. He could establish novel models in Bengal by effecting land-reforms and decentralization of power. Under his leadership, Bengal could attain the highest  rate of agricultural growth in the country. It was his association with the peasant movement in Bengal that helped him take these progressive measures in agricultural sector. But unfortunately before establishing cent percent rights for the tenancy of the peasants and agricultural workers over land, he had to move away from power. But even then, the laws promulgated by the Basu government remain to be a land-mark in the history not only of West Bengal, but the entire nation .

Basu’s fond memories are also relevant  in the fact that he had been successful in containing and saving the state during the days of communal struggles. It was well seen during the time of the demolition of Babari Masjid.

At one occasion, there was a call from different corners that Basu should be made the Prime Minister of India. Even though it was not realized, it was a great recognition and honour for the personality of Basu and the CPI(M).

In short, Com. Jyoti Basu was a hard-core communist, a relentless fighter for the cause of the down-trodden and the working class, an able administrator, a far-sighted leader, a staunch secularist  and what not.

At this juncture, when the country is on the brim of a collapse in the hands of the BJP-led communal and divisive forces, the great memories  of Com. Jyoti Basu would be an energizing force for all the secular  and democratic sections to fight against these communal forces.