Diego Maradona visits Jyoti Basu
7 Dec 2008, PTI
KOLKATA: Soccer icon Diego Maradona regards Marxist veteran Jyoti Basu as one of his close acquaintances considering his "closeness" to Cuban leader Fidel Castro. "You have seen Fidel Castro closely whom I hold in high esteem and in that respect I too consider you as close to me,"
Maradona, an ardent admirer of Castro, told nonagenarian Jyoti Basu during his ten-minute meeting with the Marxist patriarch. Basu gifted Maradona an album of photos of Fidel Castro taken during the Cuban leader's visit to the city.
The football legend was scheduled to visit Basu in the morning, but deferred it to afternoon on the second day of his tour of the city after media persons, including lensmen, were roughed up by the police and some miscreants near the CPI(M) leader's Salt Lake residence.
During the tete-e-tete, done with the help of interpreters, the former West Bengal Chief Minister wished Maradona long life. Much to the disappointment of the large crowd, Maradona, however, did not climb the dais erected in front of Basu's residence and left the area in a huff without addressing his fans.


V.P. Singh’s death loss for national polity: Basu

Kolkata, Nov 27 : Condoling former prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s death, veteran Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Jyoti Basu Thursday said that it was a “loss for the national polity”.
He (V.P. Singh) was all along vocal against the criminalisation of politics. The death of the leader, known for his clean public image and value-based politics, is a loss for our national polity,” Basu, former West Bengal chief minister, said in a statement here.

Recalling his association with V.P. Singh, Basu recalled that the leftists had supported him when he resigned from the Rajiv Gandhi ministry protesting against corruption and later when he became the prime minister.

“V.P. Singh always fought communalism. He had stressed the need for uniting the secular and democratic forces to thwart the dangers of communalism,” he said.

Basu remembered V.P. Singh’s vital role in the formation of the United Front government of 1996 and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2004, and said he had taken important steps for the upliftment of the other backward classes.


Jyoti Basu's letter to Prime Minister before NIC meeting

Dear Shri Man Mohan Singhji,

Thank you for your letter of 7 October 2008 asking me to attend the next meeting of the National integration Council enclosing the agenda. I regret that it would not be possible for me, for reasons of disadvantageous physical conditions that I am in, to be personally present in the meeting. I shall take this opportunity to make a few suggestions on the agenda for discussion.

We have long been sending out concrete suggestions to the successive governments of India on the sensitive and important issue of national integration. We have failed to see yet the impact of propositions in matters of policy of the Government of India. There must be a change made from the present policy being pursued in order to make the issue of national integration a vibrant reality and to keep the nation from falling apart. For this political will is necessary.

The crux of the Constitution is the set of principles known as the directive principles of state policy.

These principles include adequate means of livelihood for every citizen and the right to work; an economic system, which does not result in the concentration of wealth; right to education and provision for free, and compulsory education for children; living wage for workers and equal work for equal pay for men and women.

None of these principles could be implemented thanks to the bias to the rich of the socio-economic system that prevails in the country. The gap between the virtuous intentions and the actuality of practice stares us in the face 58 years since the adoption of the Constitution.

The period since the independence has been marked by a continuing crisis because of the above-noted factors in the nation’s economy. This has served to stress and accelerate not only the problem but has harmed the national integration process itself. India has been principally an agrarian country with a superstructure of industries. After we gained freedom from British colonial rule, despite the land reforms act of the mid-1950s and scores of pious declarations and promises, the successive central governments led by the Congress and other parties refused to go in for land reforms. Concentration of land and rural inequalities, and a severe persecution of the peasant masses continue unabated. A central legislation on minimum wages in the rural stretches is yet to be implanted properly.

The policy of liberalisation and the imperialism-driven globalisation have opened up the economy to the marauding forays of multi-national corporations. The bureaucracy, the education system, the media, and the realm of culture are now subject to the unbridled penetration of foreign capital. No wonder regional imbalance has grown and national integration has stood to suffer.

The absence of nationwide implementation of redistributive land reforms and a lack of economic development have contributed to the plight of caste groups and has intensified caste divisions which is being utilised by the vested interests. Without political, social, and economic equality, the castes especially the scheduled castes and the dalits have fallen prey to the forces of casteism.

We need to recall that even communalisation has its roots in the economic and social backwardness. Mere reservations, necessary as they are, cannot prevent such a phenomenon from taking place without economic empowerment in particular. Because of what can be called the class-caste correspondence, those at the bottom of the economic structure are also thus at the bottom of the social structure.

The imposition of neoliberal economic policy, lack of public investment in agriculture, and the increasing debt burden of the peasantry have all contributed to the plight of the downtrodden. The factors have come together to accentuate regional imbalance and worsen the caste and identity divisions.

We have conducted a wide campaign on restructuring of the centre-state relationship a matter of crucial importance. As a result, the H S Sarkaria Commission was set up by Mrs Indira Gandhi. Its recommendations were not fully satisfactory. Nevertheless, its views with regard to certain financial relations have not been implemented.

To take but two of many examples, the credit-deposit ratio is weighed heavily against the states, and the tax share of the states have been reduced to less than 30% from the stipulated 50%. The centre-state relationships have been used as a political weapon depriving some states, and working to the advantage of others. Subversive forces and the forces of status quo have taken full advantage of the situation, weakening national integration as a whole.

The various reports on minority communities and their plights have been gathering dust. We must fight the communal menace through political will and administrative courage and commitment to secular values. There is widespread compromise with communalism for narrow electoral gains. Majoritarian communalism has in turn given rise to minority communalism and things are taking a more and more violent turn.

We have offered suggestions for the improvement of the state of the national integration, or the present weaknesses it faces, several times earlier. To strengthen the parliamentary democracy, electoral reforms are essential. A basic move to check money and muscle power must be put in place. The nine-member Constitution bench in 1994 said that secularism must be defined as the basic feature of the Constitution and this should find clear expression in the Constitution. The harmful direction of the centre-state relationship should be reversed.

The basic thrust of the political outlook must comprise land reforms, higher wages, more state intervention in agrarian, economic, and financial sectors, increased employment, defence of the public sector, turning away from the imperialist-run labialisation, the equality of women, the emancipation of the dalits and the adivasis, and finally a strong defence of the rights of the socially and economically oppressed, and the minorities. An important component of the move towards national integration would be a move away from a US-dominated foreign policy. For all this to be reality the central government must exert the correct political will in abundance or the nation’s existence itself will in the long run be imperilled.

With regards,

Yours sincerely,

(Jyoti Basu)

12th October, 2008

Jyoti Basu reading Ganashakti sharad sankhya 2008

PIX: Shyamal Basu

CPI(M) central committee members meet Jyoti Basu

Kolkata, 13th October, 2008: Members of the central committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who are here to attend the three-day meet of the body, took time off on the second day of deliberations and visited veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu at his Salt Lake residence on Monday.

Mr. Basu reportedly expressed happiness on seeing his party colleagues and spent some time with them.

The 94-year-old leader also had a photo session with those who called on him.

In response to requests made by him on grounds of health, the CPI(M) leadership had relieved Mr. Basu of his responsibilities in the Polit Bureau at the 19th Party Congress held earlier this year in Coimbatore. He, however, was made a special invitee to the body besides continuing to be a member of the party’s central committee.

Mr. Basu has not been able to participate in the ongoing central committee meeting for health reasons.

Among those who visited him were CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, party’s West Bengal State Committee secretary Biman Basu, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and Brinda Karat — all Polit Bureau members.


Kolkata, 24th September, 2008: Former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda on wednesday called on veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu, who is recovering at his Salt Lake residence after a head injury. Talking to reporters after the 30-minute meeting, Gowda described the CPI(M) patriarch as an "international politician" and said he had wished him speedy recovery.

Jyoti Basu appeals to Singur land-losers to accept package

KOLKATA, 19th September, 2008: Veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu on Friday appealed to Singur agitators to accept the compensation package prepared by the West Bengal government for the land-losers and allow resumption of work for the Tata Motors small car project.

"To enable the small car project to materialise, the state government recently announced a compensation package for the farmers who have given land. I appeal to all concerned to accept the package and allow the project to come up," Basu said in a statement from his Salt Lake residence after meeting party state secretary Biman Bose.

"I also appeal to those who are opposing the project to rise above politics and cooperate with the state government in allowing the project to come up in the interest of the people of the state," Basu said. The CPI(M) patriarch, who returned home on Tuesday after spending nine days at hospital following a head injury, could not attend the party state secretariat meeting earlier in the day at the party office. He was briefed about the meeting by Bose.

Describing the Tata Motors small car project as "very important" for development of the state, he said once the project came up, it would increase employment opportunities and bring about economic development. It would also attract more investments to the state. "The development of the state should be the desire of everybody irrespective of political affiliation," Basu said.


Kolkata, September 18, 2008 :
Accompanied by Biman Basu,
CPI(M) general secretary
Prakash Karat met ailing
veteran Marxist leader
Jyoti Basu at his
residence at Salt Lake.
PIX: Shyamal Basu

Jyoti Basu released from hospital

Kolkata,16 September,2008:Former West Bengal chief minister and veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu, recovering from a head injury, was released from hospital Tuesday evening, hospital officials said.

‘Basu has been released from the hospital at 5.10 p.m. Tuesday. His health condition is stable,’ said AMRI Hospitals vice-president S. Upadhyay here.

Basu will be under domiciliary care under a team of doctors comprising of a neurologist, a cardiologist and a geriatrician, who will regularly supervise and monitor his health at his residence.

The 94-year-old leader suffered ‘internal haemorrhage in the head’ after he fell in the bathroom of his Salt Lake home early Sep 5.

He underwent a CT scan a day after his fall and was advised hospitalisation. He also received stitches on his forehead. A second CT scan was done on him earlier last week.

CT scan done on Basu, medical parameters normal

Kolkata, 14th September, 2008: Veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu, being treated at a private hospital for head injuries, Sunday underwent a CT scan as doctors said that his medical parameters were normal. "A repeat CT scan was done (on Basu) today.

The report of the scan will be placed before the medical board on Monday to decide the further course of action," a bulletin issued by the AMRI hospital said today. It said that the team of doctors who were monitoring his condition examined Basu today and said his clinical parameters were found to be normal. "He had his usual normal diet," the bulletin said. Considering the age factor, doctors are yet to decide on any surgical intervention to remove the clot and is still continuing with medication.

A final decision on the brain surgery of veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu, will be taken by the doctors of AMRI hospitals on Monday. For the moment the doctors have decided to continue with the medicines.

The 95 year old CPI (M) patriarch was admitted to the AMRI hospital on September 7, two days after he had fallen at his Salt Lake residence. A blood clot was detected on the left side of his brain. According to the latest bulletin released by the hospital authorities, Mr Basu condition is stable and is having normal diet.

Among those who visited Basu in the hospital on Sunday were the Left Front Chairman and CPI(M) State Secretary Biman Basu and party polit bureau member Brinda Karat. West Bengal transport minister Subash Chakraborty and his wife Ramala Chakraborty has been the regular visitor to the hospital.

Mr. Basu served as the chief minister of West Bengal from 1977 to 2000.

Jyoti Basu responding to treatment

KOLKATA, 9th September, 2008: Former chief minister and CPI(M) patriarch Jyoti Basu's condition remained stable on Monday. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, finance minister Asim Dasgupta and CPI(M) state secretary Biman Basu, transport minister Subhas Chakraborty and his wife Ramala went to visit Basu today. Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who went to visit him, said he was in good form.

A CT scan was done later on Monday night to assess the condition of blood clots. "He is in very good form and responding very well to the treatment being provided here. He talked about international and national matters. His sense of good humour remains," Gandhi said after coming out of the hospital. He wouldn't clarify whether Basu raised the Singur issue during their meet.

S Upadhyay, senior vicepresident, AMRI Hospitals, said Basu had slept well. "His other parameters are under control," Upadhyay said. A 10-member medical board has been formed to evaluate his condition. On Tuesday morning, members of the board will meet to evaluate the nonagenarian's condition.

JYOTI BASU admitted to hospital

KOLKATA, 8th September, 2008: Veteren CPI(M) leader, Former chief minister Jyoti Basu was admitted to a private hospital today with a blood clot in the brain caused by a fall at home on Friday night.

“He is fully conscious, stable and is having normal nutrition. He is presently kept under observation,” a medical bulletin issued by AMRI Hospitals, near Dhakuria Bridge, said. A 10-member medical board, headed by neurosurgeon R.N. Bhattacharya, has been set up.

“There is a blood clot on the left side of the brain surface. But there is no plan for immediate surgery,” said a doctor treating him. “He takes blood-thinning medicines, so it is not possible to perform a surgery immediately. Those medicines have been stopped in case there is need for surgery.”

Hospital officials said a number of pathological tests were done and the results were normal. “More tests will be done tomorrow and the medical board will once again review the progress on Tuesday,” the bulletin said.

Basu, 95, was admitted to the hospital at 11.35am and is in a special suite on the second floor of the hospital’s new building. Doctors said he was likely to be kept under observation for a week.On Friday night, the CPI(M) leader had bumped against a bathroom wall while trying to locate a light switch. A CT scan revealed a blood clot.

Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee and state health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra visited Basu in hospital. “He is perfectly all right and talking normally,” Mishra said.


Thwart the Anti-Development Political Conspiracy of The Opposition: JYOTI BASU

IN a long interview published in Ganashakti daily on March 28,2007 , former Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu has spoken on various issues concerning development and opposition to it.

On industrialisation during Jyoti Basu’s tenure as chief minister and prospects: Bengal could reach its present position overcoming a lot of obstacle. We must occupy the prime position in industrial development in the country soon. Despite our efforts, we have had to confront and overcome a series of obstacles. The obstacles principally comprised central policies including freight equalisation policy, license raj, and the discouragement shown to industrialists about investing in Bengal.

The central government would not invest directly in Bengal as an example of discrimination. Discrimination was also evident in the acts of the planning commission and of the all-India financial institutions. The central government would cooperate with but a few selected states. Discrimination was made against Bengal as against Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and the north-eastern region.

From its inception, the Bengal Left Front government gave priorities to land reforms, agricultural growth, decentralised rural democracy through the Panchayat system, seat reservation in the Panchayats for women, voting rights for those 18 years of age, improvement in agri-production, emphasising on cottage and small scale industries. We have underwritten the interests of the poor, the khet mazdoors, and the share-croppers. We have redistributed land among the landless.

Our Left Front government would never run from the Writers’ Buildings—we move forward taking along all workers, employees, officers, and above all, the mass of the people in all our endeavours. Decentralisation of administrative and financial powers has been done to ensure the involvement of every section of the people with the act of development. What became an obstacle was the policy of discrimination and deprivation of the union government.

We can cite examples of such obstacles. We had to wait for 11 years merely for the permission to set up the petro-chemicals complex at Haldia. In addition, when we approached prime minister Indira Gandhi for the electronics complex at Salt Lake, the response after a period of one year was that permission could not be given because it was near the Bangladesh border. We then went ahead on our own to allot 300 acres of land for the complex to be set up. Today more than 30 thousand young men and women work at that complex.

Priority areas for infrastructural development: We had reckoned with the existing problems and had started work on setting up new industrial areas. Problems included that of power, and this was because all the agencies, including the planning commission and the central government itself had erred. The typical response of the then Congress-run union government to our request for improvement in power generation was that there would not be any further demand for power in Bengal. Then we came to office and set up the Bakreshwar plant and the Kolaghat plant. CESC set up plants at Budge budge and Titagurh. Slowly the power situation took a turn for the better. A better ambience for industrial investment was created. There was a problem of navigability in the Ganges River because of silting. We have repeatedly drawn the attention of the union government in this regard.

We set up several townships like at Rajarhat and Siliguri where land acquisition was never a problem. Kolkata has several flyovers with planning, participation by and loan from Japan but without conditionalities. The conditional World Bank loan we had refused. The ADB gave us loan without conditionalities.

Following the changes wrought in the union government’s policies, license system was scrapped and the freight equalisation policy partially withdrawn in the new economic policy of 1991. I would urge upon the entrepreneurs and industrialists to invest in Bengal. I would ask the workers to enhance production. The workers must struggle for their hard-earned rights. They must also look to the interest of the industry itself.

In the past, some industries had grown during the Congress regime when Dr B C Roy was the chief minister. We had not posed any opposition to the initiatives. Durgapur went into a depression but now a fresh wave of investment has appeared.

Post 1994 industrial policy scenario: The Left Front government declared its industrial policy in 1994. The issue was discussed in the Party and was approved at the 1995 Chandigarh Party Congress. The capitalists invest for profit. Industry is needed for development. We welcome foreign investment and technology in mutually beneficent and appropriate sectors. We welcome indigenous investment without forsaking or weakening state sector and joint sector. We have travelled across USA, England, and Japan explaining our stand. The investors there had shown interest.

There was a negative propaganda against Bengal. We have had to face questions at places like the London School of Economic, University of Berkeley, and Oxford. We had to iterate that there was good work culture in Bengal. Over the years, the misgivings have gone. I have also gone to Holland and Germany. Siemens could be brought back. In the past, Bengal had been at the top of the list of industrialised states. We must get back to that position. From the efforts put in by the present chief minister and his colleagues, this will be a possibility sooner rather than later.

Problems of industrialisation and their resolution: For long periods, we have had effective success in agriculture. We have secured complete self-dependency in food production. We are not out-of-our mind that we would destroy our agriculture and build industries. The principal is to set up industries where there is fallow land. If such land were not available in quantities, we would go in for single-crop, and later multi-crop land. The Tata motors were shown land parcels for the automobile factory elsewhere and they chose Singur. The industries minister has explained the terms and conditions involved. There has been provision made for compensation and rehabilitation. Other proposals for investment are in the pipeline: Jindal’s steel project at Salboni, Videocon in north Bengal. There are no problems regarding land in these projects. We want an even growth in the state. Big players in info-tech are coming: Wipro, IBM, Cognizent etc. We need land for industries and we must enhance the level of consciousness. We must tell them that industrialisation is needed to tackle the problem of unemployment. We had not anticipated the reaction of the people that would occur in this way. We should have taken steps earlier to increase the people’s consciousness. Some amount of perplexity has persisted. This state-of-affairs will surely pass.

Opposition to development and tackling the issue:
The opposition is engaged in political sabotage to deter the developmental efforts. They are not able to fight politically. They have all banded together—the Trinamul Congress, the Maoists, the Naxalites, and the SUCI. The extreme right has joined hands with the extreme left. The role of the Congress is not at all good. The chief minister has repeatedly said that if the people of Nandigram do not want industries, there would be no industry set up there. Nevertheless, peace would not return even then and certain developments occur! We have to be more careful about land acquisition. Land maps have been created now and we have to move according to the maps. A huge amount of lies are uttered in campaign of disinformation against us about Nandigram, and such campaign had taken place in the past as well especially in 1967 and 1969, and after 1977. We must take to the streets and through campaign, profile the real picture before the people.

The misunderstanding among LF partners: There should not be a front within a front. We exhort upon the constituents not to forge such fronts. This will weaken the LF and give advantage to the opposition. The United Fronts of 1967 and 1969 broke up and yet, it was through campaign-movement that Left Front grew up later. The LF fought the 1977 elections and won. One or two members of the LF raise the issue that they are not able to know everything that goes on. If there is such lack of coordination, we have to acknowledge it and take corrective measures. The process of discussion must go on. There should be bi-partite discussions held as is being done now, and later the discussion carried onto the LF meetings. The people must realise that it is the government of the Left Front and not of the Party alone. The core committee must be made more active. However, all problems must be tackled at the level of the Left Front. Separate meetings would hardly be of any use.

Left Front and Left Front government: The major principals of the LF government must be decided at the level of the Left Front. The LF must take decisions based on discussions. The LF government would then take the next steps based on the principal decisions taken at the LF. There would be a review later on regarding the steps taken. The implementation process must be further accelerated. The work of the various government departments must be reviewed. The ministers of our Party must review the work of the departments they run. Similarly, the ministers of the constituent parties running their respective departments must review their work. Review must be made of pending developmental projects like the Teesta project of the irrigation department and the road projects. Through such efforts, the successful implementation of the state LF government’s projects would be ensured.

Task of the Party workers now: There had been some misunderstanding over the recent developments including that in Nandigram, among our LF constituents, and within the Party. We have held state committee meetings. We have taken a united decision to tackle the present situation. The opposition is indulging in lies and misleading the people. At the same time, they are murdering our Party workers, and ousting them from their places of residence. These are all works of sabotage. This had happened earlier in Keshpur in Midnapore. We had said then that they must return to their places of residence before the autumn festival.

At Nandigram, several thousands of people have been rendered homeless. Normalcy must be returned as soon as possible. We have learned from the Keshpur experience. We shall not allow anarchy to happen in the state. The big responsibility on our Party workers is to tackle the situation unitedly.

Implementation of the LF government’s programme in the days ahead: The LF government works within an ambience of limitation. The LF government is not in a position to set up Socialism. It will try to safeguard and advance the people’s interests within its limited capabilities, to the greatest extent possible. The power of the LF government lies in its pro-people outlook. Running such a government within the parliamentary system is an example, here in this country, and abroad. We have received a massive support from mass organisations of workers, peasants, students, youth, women, refugees, et al.

I retired from government on the eve of the formation of the sixth LF government. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee then deputy chief minister, assumed the responsibility of the chief minister. The government has worked with success. We had gone deep amongst the people in the run up to the last Assembly elections, and we had explained the pro-people policies of the Left Front government.

People’s Democracy, April 01, 2007


An Uncompromising Fighter Against Communal Forces

Jyoti Basu

COMRADE Harkishan Singh Surjeet was two years younger than I am. For the past one-and-a-half to two years, he had been very ill. His voice had become faint. The condition of my health too is not very good, and I am almost bed-ridden. Now-a-days, I am not able to attend Party meetings held in Delhi. Still, when I had gone to Delhi on the last occasion, I had gone to his residence to meet him. Since then I would learn about his illness from time-to-time. Nevertheless, it is very painful for me to realise the fact that Comrade Surjeet has left us forever. Now, on his loss, I do feel somewhat alone and lonely.

We have worked as comrades-in-arms in the Party. We were witness to so many events. Those memories come back to me now more than ever. However, I am now-a-days not able to recall very many past events. After all, I am 95. I have worked as wholetimer of the Party for the past 68 years. I have heard that Comrade Surjeet took part in the freedom struggle at very young age when he was a student. He had an important role to play in the building up of the Communist movement in the Punjab. He had been the secretary of the Punjab state committee of the Party. I was elected to the Central Committee in 1954, at the Third Party Congress held at Madurai. Surjeet was made a member of the Polit Bureau there. I had of course known him from much earlier.

I particularly recall the Amritsar Party Congress. A lakh of people attended the open rally. There was a big procession of the Party Congress delegates before the rally. I along with Comrade EMS and Comrade Surjeet were in an open jeep. I remember when the procession was moving around Amritsar, women and children were showering flower petals on us from houses on both sides of the route we took. I came to realise the depth of the mass base of the Party in the Punjab.

After the Communist Party split on ideological grounds, Surjeet was one of the 32 members of the national council who came out of it. When the CPI(M) was formed, Comrade Surjeet and I were elected to the Polit Bureau. He played an important role at that time in organising the CPI(M), and providing the necessary leadership in different states. He also played a leading role in the task of the building up of the mass organisations of workers, peasants, student-youth etc, always encouraging them.

As the all-India leader of the Party, Comrade Surjeet played a noteworthy role in national politics. He played an uncompromising role in keeping away from office the communal BJP in the new political situation of the country. He had a notable role to play also during the time in 1989 when the non-Congress V P Singh-led central government was set up. As the Party general secretary later on, he played a crucial role in isolating the communal forces and uniting the Left and democratic forces during the time when the United Front government of 1996 under Deve Gowda and later the UPA government of 2004 were set up.

We took his advice on the question of running the Left Front government in West Bengal. He would repeatedly stress that it was especially important to maintain the unity of the Left Front constituents. I have always agreed with him on this issue. When I asked to be relieved of the post of chief minister on health grounds, Comrade Surjeet became very worried. He came to my residence and had a discussion. It was decided at the discussion that we would first set up the post of a deputy chief minister who would later on become the chief minister, and that I would not run for the elections. That formula has been a success. The Party and the people of West Bengal have accepted Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee with delight. We are proud that a Left Front government is in office here for 31 years with the support and trust of the people.

In the demise of comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet, we have lost a pioneer leader of the CPI (M). The left and democratic movement of the country has suffered a great loss. Comrade Surjeet was not just our leader; he maintained contact with various organisations and mass organisations of the country. He had good relations with the Communist parties of different countries around the world. He had especially won the hearts of the mass of the people. I had travelled with him here and abroad and had seen how the people loved him. I especially recall how I with my family members had enjoyed the hospitality of the village home of comrade Surjeet.

Comrade Surjeet has passed away. In expressing my respectful regards in his memory, I would say that we would certainly reach the goal for the achievement of which he toiled throughout his life. The task is a hard, it would take time, the struggles, and movements would undergo a process of ebbs and flows, but we do belives that we shall reach our goal. All of us follow what we have learnt from his life: to work with patience and honesty. He was two years my junior and yet he went away. I can only say this: to a Communist, the interest of the people is much greater than personal interest. It is easy to say this but very difficult to follow. I have said this before, and I say this again, that I would like to work for the interest of the people until the last day of my life.


Why To Recall The October Revolution’s Impact?


Jyoti Basu

NONE can doubt that the Great October Revolution of Russia, whose 90th anniversary we are now celebrating, was a world-shaking event and a turning point in human history. It enabled the establishment of the first socialist state in the world, thereby enabling the implementation of Marxism through statecraft for the first time in world history. The Revolution also had an international impact since it inspired a whole range of radical politics around the globe. It was not without reason that the Revolution was hailed as a source of inspiration for the anti-imperialist protest movement in colonial India.


Comrade V I Lenin, who led the Bolshevik Revolution, was aware of the emerging nationalist stirrings in India. He hailed our 1857 war of independence and had tremendous respect for Tilak and his associates. When the British arrested Tilak in 1908, Lenin wrote in his article “The Inflammable Material in World Politics”:

“But popular India is beginning to stand up in defence of her rights and political leaders. The infamous sentence pronounced by the British jackals on the Indian democrat Tilak … by the lackeys of moneybags evoked street demonstrations and a strike in Bombay.”

As Lenin was confident that the October Revolution would ignite revolutionary forces in India and other colonial countries, he thus remarked in his article on the national liberation movement in the East:

“As a result of the imperialist war of 1914-1918 and the establishment of Soviet force in Russia, the masses are definitely being converted into an active factor in world politics and of the revolutionary destruction of imperialism.”

In 1920, under Lenin’s able guidance, the Second Congress of the Communist International (Comintern, also called Third International) adopted a thesis on the colonial and national question, and it proved to be crucial for the developing nationalist discourses and movements worldwide against imperialism. October the same year saw the formation of the Communist Party of India in Tashkent. From then on, inspired by the October Revolution, India experienced an uninterrupted struggle against colonialism and a simultaneous movement for the establishment of a new social order based on equality and justice.


During the 1920s, inspired by what was taking place in the Soviet Union, activities of a whole generation of youth like Muzaffar Ahmed, S A Dange, Gholam Hussian, S V Ghate and others contributed to the dissemination of Marxist ideology in India. Small groups of dedicated political workers became involved in the spread of Marxian philosophy among the then-on-move working class in Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Kanpur and Lahore. Meanwhile, in 1923, several Indian youth were arrested while on their way back from the Soviet Union, and were implicated in what came to be known as the Peshawar Bolshevik Conspiracy Case.

The growing impact of Marxism and the October Revolution’s lessons on the rising Indian nationalist consciousness alarmed the British Raj. Following the trail of the Peshawar case, in order to nip in the bud the rising communist movement in India, the British government implicated Muzaffar Ahmed and several others in the infamous Kanpur Conspiracy Case. However, the British attempt to crush by brutal force the growth of communist influence in the country miserably failed once again. In December 1925, an open conference of Indian communists was organised in the same Kanpur city. By the beginning of 1926, a nucleus of the CPI’s leadership was constituted to coordinate between the various, hitherto mutually unconnected communist groups in the country. The formation of Workers and Peasant Parties in a number of provinces helped the spread of Marxism among the working class and peasantry, especially in Madras, Bengal, Punjab and the United Provinces. The ideological inspiration for all these political developments came from the October Revolution.

The observance in 1927 of the tenth anniversary of October Revolution generated a new interest about the Soviet attainments among the Indian intelligentsia, especially in Bengal, Bombay and Delhi. This occasioned the formation of small groups of youth who dedicated themselves to spreading the message of October Revolution among the toiling classes in the country. During the anti-Simon Commission agitation in 1928-29, there were stirrings of the Left-inspired labour protests also. Textile workers of Bombay and South Maharashtra were organised under the Girni Kamgar Union; the workers of Madras and South Maratha Railways rose up in protest against their degrading working conditions. In the same period, when the League against Imperialism was formed under the influence of the Third International, the imagination of the Indian youth got further excited. Publications of the time like the Langal, Ganabani, Kirti, Mazdur, Kisan, Spark and Kranti indicate how the young intelligentsia in India were motivated by the socio-economic transformation taking place in the Soviet Union.

The rising tide of protest politics influenced by Marxism and the growing appeal of the Soviet leadership among the toiling masses of India induced the British Raj to once again come down heavily upon the communist activists. In March 1929, thirty-three leading figures of the growing communist movement in the country including Muzaffar Ahmed, Dange, Mirajkar, P C Joshi, Ben Bradley and Philip Spratt (the last two were sent by the Communist Party of Great Britain) were arrested from different parts of the country and implicated in the Meerut Conspiracy Case. Interestingly, mere presence of Lenin’s works and other Soviet publications in the possession of the accused was taken as a crime and these were produced as exhibits in the Meerut case to prove the charge that they were conspiring against the Raj.


Despite these repressive British measures, progressive politics --- nourished in the tradition of the October Revolution --- continued to make its presence felt in India.

In 1927, Rabindranath Tagore went on an historic visit to the Soviet Union and was tremendously impressed by the revolutionary transformations going on in the Soviet Union. In his Letters from Russia (Russiar Chithi), he even remarked that his life would have remained incomplete if he had not undertaken that trip to the Soviet Union. Tagore’s favourable impressions about the Soviet Union greatly moulded public opinion in Bengal in favour of the revolutionary tide in the aftermath of the October Revolution.

Besides the CPI, organisations like the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association led by Bhagat Singh gave voice to the Indian people’s protest against the Raj while kisan unions raised their voice against colonialism as well as feudalism. During the 1930s, especially in the wake of the Great Depression, Oudh in the United Provinces, Kishoreganj and Sylhet in Bengal, parts of Bihar and North-West Frontier Provinces emerged as strong centres of peasant upsurges. It was during this period that such leaders of protest politics as Swami Sahajananda Saraswati in Bihar, Maulana Bhasani in Sylhet and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in North-West Province rose to prominence.

It was out of this new politics of protest that in 1936 organisations like the Students Federation, the All India Kisan Sabha, the Progressive Writers Association and still later the Indian People’s Theatre Association were born.

Later, during the prelude to the transfer of power --- the stormy period of the 1940s --- the message of the October Revolution proved to be the major driving force behind the post-war anti-colonial, democratic upsurge in Bengal and other parts of India. Particular mention may be made here of the RIN naval mutiny, the popular upsurge against the INA trials and the students revolt against imperialist depredations in Indochina. This “Almost Revolution” period of 1945-46 reached its climax in the Telangana and Tebhaga movements. All these upsurges drew ideological inspiration from Marxism-Leninism and the practical lessons of the Great October Revolution.


In the post-independence India, the popular struggle for building a democratic, secular and socialist society also got sustenance from the lessons from the October Revolution and the socialist transformation in the first socialist state of the world. It is thus evident that today, when we stand at the crossroads of a new age, are getting tormented by the threats of globalisation, consumerism, individualism, erosion of the state’s role in public welfare activities and religious fundamentalism, we can’t but look back to the Great October Revolution in order to develop our struggle for a new order based on equity and justice.

Perhaps the best way to remember the glorious October Revolution, therefore, is to recall its importance in developing the anti-imperialist and democratic movement in colonial India and to ponder how the lessons of that watershed in human history can guide us today in making India a better place to live in.

No doubt the debacle of socialism in the USSR and other East European countries came to us as a rude shock and we came to know about the serious mistakes having been committed there during the period of socialist construction. In the name of correcting the distortions, however, they abandoned the very proletarian class character of the state and the leading role of the Communist Party.

Our party has attempted to analyse the reasons, implications and impacts of these serious mistakes committed by the CPSU and to draw proper lessons from them. The matter was discussed in detail at the 14th congress of the CPI(M) (Chennai, January 3-9, 1992).

There is no doubt that there was a serious dearth of proper ideological education in the USSR and East European socialist countries. I also felt it during my visits there. I first visited the USSR in the year 1957 and went there several times thereafter. Though I forget the exact year, I can still recollect an experience in Russia. I was crossing the Black Sea aboard a vessel that was a German Nazi ship earlier. The Soviet army had got hold of it during the Second World War. There were nearly 2200 passengers aboard and almost all of them were going to spend their holidays. They were busy with playing and swimming but I found nobody was interested in reading a newspaper, though there were important news items on the 5-year plan and on the return to the Earth of a Soviet astronaut. I asked my interpreter about the reason. He replied that as the people were on their way to spending holidays, they were in no mood to go through the newspapers. They would see one only later, after their return, and that too only the items on financial benefits. I was dumbstruck and then could not understand the whole thing. Now I feel that the tendency had already set in even by that time.


Here I recall a telltale episode. The last congress of the undivided CPI was held in Vijaywada in 1961. The inevitability of a split in the party was clear at the congress. Internationally, anti-Stalin propaganda under Khrushchev’s leadership was at its peak. When our Party sent a delegation to Moscow to discuss a few questions with the CPSU leadership, I was a member of the delegation along with Bhupesh Gupta and Gobindan Nair. Comrades Suslov and Panomariev took part in the discussion on behalf of the CPSU leadership. One of my questions irritated Comrade Panomariev; I had asked him about the abandonment of the book, History of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (Bolshevik) written during the time of Comrade Stalin. The book was circulated by the Third International worldwide. Comrade Panomariev angrily replied that in that book Comrade Stalin had written just one chapter on Marxist philosophy and that Comrade Stalin’s “incorrect” analysis of the principle of negation of negation was being amended.

I told Comrade Suslov why they didn’t say anything when Comrade Stalin was alive. Comrade Suslov did not get angry and quipped with a smile: “You will not understand it. Comrade Stalin was not a leader of the Soviet party alone; he was rather a leader of the international communist movement. It was not very easy to say anything against him.”

At that time, Soviet Union was instigating the dismissal of the Albanian government. We asked what the reasons were; it is the people of that country who should decide about it. Comrade Suslov alleged that the Albanian government was campaigning against the USSR and that was the reason behind the Soviet move to topple that government. We were not satisfied with the argument. Later, on our return, we submitted a report to the Central Committee.


I have already mentioned that the CPI(M) discussed the debacle of socialism in the Soviet Union at its Chennai congress in early 1992. We indicated some of its reasons in the resolution adopted by the congress. One of the reasons, to our understanding, was the replacement of the dictatorship of the proletariat by the dictatorship of the party leadership. The people were alienated from the party and the state.

One thing is sure. The socialist system can sustain and develop only on the basis of the people’s growing collective consciousness which, in turn, is based on the material conditions created by socialist construction.

Distortions in the state power’s functioning and its class character under socialism, inability to strengthen and deepen socialist democracy, inability to effect timely changes in the methods of economic management, erosion in standards of revolutionary morality and grave deviations in the ideological sphere --- all these laid the basis for the people’s growing alienation from the party and the state, thus enabling the counter-revolutionary forces, both internal and external, to act in concert towards the dismantling of socialism. Following these reverses, world imperialism led by the USA is demonstrating a new aggressiveness and has got emboldened to dictate its neo-liberal ‘new’ world order.

Here I do not intend to repeat our views on all these tragic events. Yet, suffice it to say, the October Revolution is a lasting source of inspiration for us even today and we believe that capitalism cannot be the last word of mankind. We are confident that a classless, non-exploitative society will be established, however long it takes to achieve it.

The 21st century began with new hopes for socialism. Fortunately, the biggest country in the world, China is constructing socialism with Chinese characteristics. Some other socialist countries like Vietnam, DPR Korea, Laos and Cuba are also progressing despite problems. Cuba has not only retained but strengthened its socialist foundation, despite being subjected to continuous US imperialist pressures. China and Vietnam are continuously strengthening their socialist systems. The Left has registered its strong presence in South Africa and in such Latin American states as Nicaragua, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela and Uruguay.

All these demonstrate the resurgence of the Left in recent times.

We in India have to closely follow the policies of all these countries and, on the basis of Marxism-Leninism, devise our own policies in the concrete situation of our country for the establishment of a classless, non-exploitative society, however long it takes.

Here in India, under the given conditions, we are doing our best to implement pro-people policies in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. We have also been able to sustain the democratic, secular and anti-imperialist agitations at the national level.

We do believe that not capitalism but socialism is the way towards human progress, and the October Revolution teaches us to move forward along that path.

Published in Peoples’ Democracy, November 11, 2007


On Jyoti Basu
Editor, Front Line
Jyoti Basu, now an octogenarian, is a rare kind of political leader and a rare kind of man. His accomplishments in public life are well known, even if (in the absence of a proper biography) his personal history is known to a relatively small circle. He is way and ahead the longest serving Chief Minister independent India has had. The State of Bengal, under his stewardship, offers a model of political stability and guided progressive change which has few parallels in the imperfect federal arrangement that is political India. If there are weaknesses and failings in the post-1977 performance in office, no one is more conscious of these than the man at the helm (as you find out quickly when you interview him, or talk to him informally).

In fact, as has been pointed out in the national press, the Left Front experience constitutes something of a world record. No communist-led government in any other part of the world has won such a succession of electoral victories . . . and how ! ... over such a long period in a pluralistic political system. The Left Front has managed to maintain a better than three fourths majority of seats in all the four Assembly elections held from 1977, with the CPI(M) by itself winning an absolute majority every time. last time, in May 1991, the margins of victory were greater than ever before, the geographicxl sweep and spread overpowering.

Prior to the United Front experiments (of the late 1960s) which prepared the ground for the Left Front era, Jyoti Basu had worked long years in the trade union movement and as a Communist party organiser. When he returned from England as a barrister-at-law, it was not in the legal field that he made a mark. It was as a Communist activist and organiser and as a trade union builder. As a student in England, he had embraced Marxism and it was the Communist movement - its twists and turns, its triumphs and failures and, above all, its indisputable relevance to India's massive problems - that would be his future. Suffice it to say that long years ago, the young man made a mark in the undivided party by dint of his capabilities, the sincerity of his commitment to the cause of the working class and working people, his organising and persuasive skills, the breadth and sophistication of his outlook, the force and attractiveness of his personality, his style of work that, even on first appearance, marked him out of the ordinary. As he matured in a movement which witnessed a number of differences and internal struggles, his straightforwardness, clarity, cleanness and team spirit were highly valued. He acquired the reputation of being a unifier, a 'moderate' (to borrow the language of the press), one who tried to keep all his comrades together. It was also held or alleged widely that he was imbued with 'charisma' (whatever that means; actually it seems a lazy way of saying that a person has a set of qualities and effects that impress, inspire and move those around).

When there was no alternative to a split in the Com­munist movement, Jyoti Basu chose, calmly, clearly and decisively, the road that has a revolutionary future. Which is to say that in the mid-1960s he became a founder leader of the CPI(M). Along with E.M.S. Namboodiripad and Harkishen Surjeet, the present general secretary, he is the Polit Bureau member who represents the second generation communist experience in India. Belonging to a fraternity of Communist giants the majority of whom are gone ( A. K. Gopalan, Pramode Dasgupta, P. Sun­darayya, P. Ramamurthi, B. T. Ranadive, M. Basavapunniah), he embodies continuity at the top. It is continuity with a phase (if you like) of shining idealism and innocence. The world has changed a great deal since this second generation of Indian Com­munists were drawn by the freedom struggle and the revolutionary cause. In terms of sheer quality, ideological and political as well as personal, and moral stature, it is unlikely that this generation will be bettered.

Jyoti Basu as a leader and administrator is reputed for the clarity of his vision, for his gift of focussing on central issues and tasks, for his brisk, laidback practicality. Sometimes, he is miscalled a 'pragmatist' a label (employed admiringly in some quarters) which he amusedly but emphatically rejects. (They're saying we are pragmatists, he remarked to me in an interview for Frontline in early 1995, ((Because Jyoti Basu is a pragmatist." I said, ((I'm not a pragmatist. I'm a Marxist".' Often he sounds disarmingly simple, especially' in interviews. From time to time, this trait has been mistaken or rather deliberately misinterpreted, by both ultra-left, dogmatists and anti-Comtnunistjournalists, as a lack of ideological and political depth. What it is essentially is a genius for cutting through confusion, obfuscation, casuistry and cant. His neat, ordered and nimble mind, and the habits and style acquired over more than half a century of revolutionary work (where straightforwardness with the masses was highly valued) always work against the Muddle. An example : he never tries of countering the misapprehension or distortion put out in the press about character of the left Front experiment he heads in West Bengal. It is not a socialist economy and system operating here. (We have not made tall promises,' he pointed out to me. Whatever we can do, we have told them. One thing we cannot do : that is, bring about fundamental changes. Because we are not a republic of West Bengal! We are a part of India' where capitalism and landlordism are the government realities.

In this perspective, the Left Front, and the CPI(M) which leads it work against tough odds. They work within the harsh constratints of the system to advance the interests of the working people, to provide relief to them, and to educate them on what is and is not feasible. They work to uphold the cause of democracy, secularism and socialism, which give the Left Front its defining orientation. What they can do, and have been doing very effectively, is to (bring about such reforms by which prople will feel that somebody is looking at them ... and that we are trying to do out best. Even if we don't succeed, we take the people into confidence and tell them why we have not succeeded in certain spheres and that they should understand. ' The Left Front will always look for opportunities within the system to gain ad­vantages for the State and its people in the socio-economic, industrial, agricultural, scientific, cultural and indeed political fields. Thus, the Left Front's new industrial and economic policies express a dual reality. They are opposed to the Centre's economic liberalisation and globalisation policies on the grounds that they (a) weaken or erode sovereignty, (b) are anti-people,(c) retard rather than stimulate growth impulses in the economy, and (d) militate in several ways (for example, in terms of Central investment) against the States in general and West Bengal in particular.

At the same time, West Bengal must take 'the fullest advantage' of the space and opportunities available today in the new policy environment. Those who cannot appreciate this duality in the situation will always find themselves inside the Muddle, unable to see clearly and grasp the contradictory dynamics in the situation. Given the remarkable turnround in the power situation brought about by an in­spired policy intervention plus an extraordinarily brilliant scientist Power Minister leading from the front, and given the promotional thrust of the new State policies, there are signs of a major industrial resurgence and upswing in West Bengal. 'People who never talked to us before', the Chief Minister pointed, 'they are talking to us .. . Now with freight equalisation ... with licensing done away with in many industries, we have to provide the infrastructure. We don't have to depend on Delhi. That is why people are coming to us.' It is a promise that needs to be realised. The trends that are discernible have to be consolidated over the next five-year term which the Deft Front is sure to win in an electorally overpowering way. At the same time, it must be recognised frankly and critically that sometimes the enthusiasm to promote, to make up for the effects of past discrimination, and to change the rules of the economic game in the State can go too far. Going along a new policy track usually involves some excesses of enthusiasm and overcorrection. A balance needs to be constantly maintained, which requires monitoring and critical scrutiny of the experiment from a baseline made up of clearly worked out Left Pinciples and objectives.

The next five-year term for the Left Front will start some time in the first half of 1996 and Jyoti Basu will shape it, making fresh qualitative inputs. 'That will be my last innings,' he has been quoted as saying in the press. Who can tell? But even if it be so, by the time this batsman puts away his pads and gloves, his record in the middle will have literally taken West Bengal into the Twenty-first century. He certainly does not need to play to any gallery. With his ripeness of experience, he can shape both the next term and the future of the Left Front which can no longer be termed an 'experiment'. There are tasks to be accomplished, gaps to be overcome, successes to be consolidated. Journalism as a field is intrinsically superficial. And one of the superficialities put out tirelessly by the Indian press is that there is essentially no difference between the economic policies pursued by the Narasimha Rao and Jyoti Basu governments; and, indeed, that the latter is a more avid practitioner of the policies of unrestrained capitalism than any other State government.

I have already dealt with this point in relation to industry and investment. What is either missed, or inadequately realised, in press discussion of what is happening on the policy front in West Bengal is the background of solid accomplishment in the socio-economic field. Without that base, none of the new initiatives would be possible. The Left Front's record in rural areas, its land reform measures, the registration of share croppers ('Operation Barga') and a working panchayat system ... these have virtually no parallels among States in India. Over the past two decades, the CPI(M) and the Left Front have powerfully consolidated their support base among the rural poor. The Left Front has an exemplary record in nourishing and safeguarding communal hatmony in the State, in the [ace of certmn provocations.

West Bengal, where Muslims form over a fifth of the population, has been one of the States targeted by the saffron brigade for mischief-making; the 'alien' issue was sought to be worked up particularly in districts bordering Bangladesh. But the response from the State government was to read the early warning signals and act pre-emptively to safeguard the peace; this has been backed by a continuous effort to raise popular consciousness about the imperative of defending secularism. Maintaining communal amity in such a political environment is therefore not much of a challenge.

Given the long incumbency of the Left Front, there is bound to be a little loss of shine, some measure of disillusionment in certain constituences, particularly among middle class sections. But this appears to be a limited urban phenomenon. It is the tremendous consolidationofmass support in the countryside that neutralises such trends, rendering the Left Front virtually unbeatable in the foreseeable future. The performance can certainly do with improvement in the field of education, primary education in particular, West Bengal has done very well in its literacy cam­paigns but such campaigns must be seen as no more than mopping up operations. The absence of a working system of compulsory primary eductiuon, which ensures that all girls and boys of primary school-going age are, by law, in school and no one of this age group is in the labour force (for whatever reason), means that illiteracy is constantly being engendered at the base. Sociological surveys have shown that those most affected are girls as a group and, in particular, children belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and other most disadvantaged sections of the working poor. Free, compulsory primary education will make enormous demands on the State in terms of resource and back-up - in terms of providing buildings, elementary teach­ing material and teachers adequate to cope with the tremendous increase in demand. It wiil also mean an emphasis on basic quality. Such a system will need strict and consistent monitoring and enforcement. There must be solidarity and empathy with those are to be netted and brought to school. In a society like India's such a project would seem to require the backing of a free mid-day meal programme of the kind Tamil Nadu has.

A policy decision on this key social question is overdue in West Bengal. If the basic educational situation is not remedied in a big way, particularly in rural areas, over the next left Front term, historians could reckon it as a significant failure of the Jyoti Basu stewardship of the affairs of the State. What about the qualities of the man? One political veteran observed to me several years ago that no one since Netaji has been able to command such affection and un­shakeable loyalty among the masses in West Bengal, as Jyoti Basu. See him in a crowd, in Calcutta or in rural Bengal, and you begin to understand why this reticent, almost shy man is the darling of the millions, he makes it clear that he is nothing without his movement and his people. He is meticulous about collective discussion and decision-making, to the point of being conspicuously reluctant to express an opionion on an unsettled sensitive subject prior to a Polit Bureau or Central Committee meeting. It would be very easy for a Chief Minister, sans rivals, sans credible challenge, to distance himself from realities, to allow walls to be raised around him. Security concerns could quite easily be allowed to take over, severing the leader from the masses. But 'there is no question of Jyoti Basu falling into any such trap. This is why he visits the Alimuddin Street party office, the State Committee headquartes, virtually every day he is in Calcutta; why he continues to traverse the length and breadth of the large State; why he remains so accessible over the telephone and in person.

Jyoti Basu is an outspoken critic, of the ways of influential sections of the Calcutta press. It is not that he is opposed to criticism and adverse comment. What he finds objectionable to the consistency with which several Calcutta newspapers, Bengali as well as English, distort and twist basic news relating to the Left Front government. A recent case in point is the concocted version appearing in the press of what Land and Land Reforms Minister and veteran CPI(M) leader Benoy Chowdhury had to say about corruption. Remarks explicitly pertaining to the Centre's ways were wantonly twisted to make it appear that the State Government was at fault. Jyoti Basu is a celebrated public speaker, but this reputation is not built on the conventional orator's stock-in-trade. His power as a mass mobiliser and speaker does not lie in working up the emotions of the crowd, in spell-binding flights of rhetoric. It lies in what his personality expresses; straightforwardness, clarity, transparent sincerity in serving his revolutionary cause, fearlessness. People instinctly recognise that they are bieng given the truth, slicing through the Muddle.

I have heard on Brigade Parade ground in the early 1970s, during the period of semi-fascist terror, addressing over a million people (through an old-fashioned loudspeaker system the echoes of which are caught in some Mrinal Sen films); the rally would come to a close with tens of thousands of newspaper torches held high, lighting up the ground as darkness descended. I have heard him making a militant speech at the foundation conference of the Centre of Trade Unions in Calcutta. I have listened to him, from onstage, at Haldia a few years ago, inspiring a mass meeting which expressed solidarity with Cuba and celebrated the loading of a ship which was to sail with ten thousand tonnes of foodgrain gifted by the people of India. 'Ten thousand tonnes of solidarity', Fidel would term it when the vessel seen off by Jyoti Basu continents away eventually arrived onthe distant shores of the brave little socialist nation blockaded by U.S. imperialism.

I have participated in a seminar on Centre-State relations and Article 356 where the West Bengal Chie{ Minister's keynote address was a little masterpiece of clear reason­ing and simple exposition on the need for genuine federalism. I have listened with admiration and pride to the subtleties and cadences of Jyoti Basu the senior statesman inaugurating, in Madras recently, the First National Congress of Jesuit Alumni. He must have worked fairly hard on that speech because, when the invitation was originally pressed on him during an interlude at a Calcutta mass meeting, he seemed almost diffident about what he would have to say to such a gathering. One could go on quite a bit more about Jyoti Basu the public figure and the man. What is remarkable over the last twenty five years is the way he has broadened rather than narrowed his outlook. Catch him in his house or at an informal dinner, preferably away from Calcutta, and you realise how many interests he has. He wants to find out more about other countries, other places, other people. About books and cricket. About the '!-ew hospitals and medical centres in different parts of India and about doctors who innovate and serve the people. He has genuine admiration for those like Dr. S. S. Badrinath, the founder and moving spirit behind (Sankara Nethralaya), the state of the art opthalmic medical centre in Madras which has done such an outstanding job in responding to the needs of ordinary people while emphasising quality and excellence in the care offered. He is known to have a speacial reagrd for Mother Teresa and the order she has raised. I once read in the press Jyoti Basu's response to a question about what was so special about Mother Teresa and why she could always expect to walk into the Chief Minister's office without an appointment. (Because we both love the poor), was the simple explana­tion.

In terms of official decision-making and administration, working with Chief Min­ister Jyoti Basu is deemed to be an education and a pleasure ... provided the bureaucrats are efficient and play straight. When things go wrong, he talks plainly an,d moves fast to set right the administrative situation. Bureaucrats I have spoken to consistently report that they are treated fairly and with dignity and courtesy by the veteran ad­ministrator. He, in turn, has spoken highly on several occasions of the cooperation he manages to get from a lrge number of capable 'and outstanding officials, notably from the 'brilliant' and entirely trustworthy present Chief Secretary who happens to be a Tamil. Jyoti Basu was campaigning in Tamil Nadu in May 1991. I was out on the road with him for several hours the night Rajiv Gandhi was brutally assassinated at Sriperumbudur. The West Bengal Chief Minister is famous for not revealing his emotions and for keeping his cool under any circumstance. When the news reached us, after it had been confirmed, he was visibly upset and angry ... asking what the country and society had come to. He sat down immediately to write a tribute and message of con­dolence. The next day, he spoke to me at the State Guest House of his interactions and discussions with Rajiv , providing insights into the man, some of them warm, others critical. He had very little time, you see. The point is that he had very little time. ( Jyoti Basu said, adding honestly, (He didn't do well, you see, the five years he was there. But one always hopes that one learns .... It is a very, very bad thing for India very dangerous for the future.' My favourite image of Jyoti Basu remains the one from a news agency report after an assassination attempt was made on him some twenty five years ago at Patna railway station. It was a close call but, tragically, an LIC comrade, Mohammed Amin, who had come to receive him was killed. (When the news hit Calcutta early in the morning, everything closed down spontaneously and by noon the Bengal bandh was total.) The news report offered us this unforgettable image: Jyoti Basu, unfazed even during the moment of trauma, moving forward, pointing to the man escaping in the crowd and shouting (Catch him), before being shepherded away to security.


A Congress-led
coalition is what
we are hoping,
working for:
Jyoti Basu

With exit polls predicting a hung House, CPM leader Jyoti Basu is back in the thick of things. He spoke to Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express, on the ‘historic blunder’ that still rankles him and why Cong, led by Sonia, may be ready to run a successful coalition govt. Excerpts from the interview telecast on NDTV 24X7's Walk the Talk( Posted online: Monday, May 03, 2004 at 1040 hours IST,Updated: Tuesday, May 04, 2004 at 0252 hours IST at http://www.expressindia.com/news/fullstory.php?newsid=30989 ) :

Shekhar Gupta: My guest today is the last of the long marchers in our politics, in fact, perhaps the last of the great Communists or comrades anywhere in the world. But even at the age of 90, his journey is far from over. In fact, he perhaps thinks that his journey has come to a very interesting turning point right now in these elections. Welcome to Walk The Talk, Mr Jyoti Basu. Very nice of you to agree to speak with us. I know you are very busy campaigning in the elections.
Jyoti Basu: Yes, unfortunately even at this age and with my health...I have to. I never thought that this elections I would face because I thought it would happen five or six months later...And two rounds of elections have been there. And from the reports which I gather from newspapers and from my friends, I feel that BJP will go down. Their numbers will go down. Congress will come up.

But nobody can get a majority it seems. Because they are dependent, now the coalition partners are there with the Congress, with the BJP. It seems eight or nine parties have deserted the BJP. Who they are, I do not know. How many MPs they have, I do not know. But in any case, looks like a hung Parliament may come off. And then, parties have to sit together, non-communal parties on the one side, communal parties on the other side and then decide on the minimum programme, on which we lay a lot of stress, it has to be there. (It) cannot be any party’s programme but minimum common programme as we have in West Bengal, and then we have to choose the prime minister also.

So that is what we are telling the people during election meetings that that will be decided later. It has happened before in India, so this is nothing new. When the 12-party government was formed, we couldn’t find a prime minister, so they offered me. But anyway, my party didn’t agree but we supported that government from outside and we were...

Shekhar Gupta: We’ll come to the question of your party not agreeing but tell me, nobody knows Indian politics better than you. You’ve been in public life for 64 years now?

Jyoti Basu: 64 years.

Shekhar Gupta: So today, forget exit polls, forget opinion polls, do you see a Congress-led coalition in power, three weeks from now?

Jyoti Basu: That is what we are hoping for, we are working for. But it doesn’t depend on us only, but the smaller parties, but other smaller parties, but mainly on the Congress. But one good thing has happened. We’ve been telling the Congress that you can’t have a single party majority, ever. At least in the near future, we don’t see any possibility. So you must think about a coalition, which they refused last time when the BJP lost by one vote. And so nothing happened. And now it seems they’ve changed. In their Shimla meeting they said that coalition is the way out.

Shekhar Gupta: So now Indian politics is finding a direction. This is a BJP-led coalition versus a Cong-led coalition?

Jyoti Basu: That’s right, correct.

Shekhar Gupta: And that will be the direction for some time now?

Jyoti Basu: Some time now. That’s right.

Shekhar Gupta: If these projections are right, do you think the BJP made a mistake by announcing an early poll.

Jyoti Basu: I think so. You see that didn’t work. I don’t see any effect of that anywhere. So now in their programme, I find that the Ram temple issue has been raised. So whoever their partners are at the moment, eight or nine have left them. I do not know all of them. So they have also to think if they are non-communal, if they are secular. But BJP very soon found out after spending crores of government money on ads...

Shekhar Gupta: India Shining...

Jyoti Basu: Feel good, India Shining and all the rest of it, that didn’t work. So they brought into the forefront the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and all their programmes. Other, Hindutva or what they call Hindutva.

Shekhar Gupta: Hindutva, I think, and also Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin, which is now emerging...

Jyoti Basu: That also I will come (to)...but that I don’t think is having much effect. I don’t know in the northern part of India but here, it doesn’t have any effect. But there are some people even in the Congress who talk about this foreign origin.

Shekhar Gupta: Who feel uneasy?

Jyoti Basu: But we can’t stop her. Because if she wants to become the prime minister, (she is) the largest party leader. Because under the Constitution, she is an Indian citizen. She has all the rights which Indian citizens have.

Shekhar Gupta: But the NDA has said they will bring in a law to bar people of foreign origin from holding high offices.

Jyoti Basu: Yes, yes, if they come to government, they have made it clear they will bring such a law. It exists in some countries but we shall oppose it. We don’t like it at all.

Shekhar Gupta: For what reasons?

Jyoti Basu: Well, she has married an Indian, she’s got Indian citizenship. A person like that, how can you prevent them from participating in politics? Or her children?

Shekhar Gupta: But tomorrow, there can be a situation that the NDA falls short and there is a prospect of a non-NDA, or what you call a secular, alliance coming to power. Suppose two parties in that alliance say we will support the alliance but no Sonia. They bring in the foreigner issue.

Jyoti Basu: I told you that it is only after the results are out, elections are over, that that will be decided by the parties who want to get together to form a secular government to decide on the prime minister as well as the common minimum programme.

Shekhar Gupta: But if the Congress then chooses, Congress is the government and partner, they choose Sonia Gandhi ?

Jyoti Basu: I don’t think we should have any objection. I, at least, will not have any.

Shekhar Gupta: The Left will not have an objection?

Jyoti Basu: She’s working for the Congress, her party.

Shekhar Gupta: But you had objections in the past.

Jyoti Basu: I never had any objection. When I was asked when she first joined politics, I said I had known her from earlier times when Rajiv was there. I had dinner, lunch and all that with them and she was a housewife. But housewives also (laughs) have the right to come into politics. I am very happy about it.

Shekhar Gupta: So you see her as a housewife...

Jyoti Basu: She has been working very hard, it seems. Her only problem was Hindi. So I asked her. She said no, my children of course speak Hindi very well, but I have also picked up.

Shekhar Gupta: When did you ask her about her Hindi?

Jyoti Basu: I asked her...

Shekhar Gupta: No, when?

Jyoti Basu: That was about three, three or four months back. When I was ill, I went to hospital for four-and-a-half days. I went for my Central Committee meeting. I came back home, then she came and saw me.

Shekhar Gupta: And, you questioned her on her Hindi?

Jyoti Basu: Then, I said, of course we spoke in English, but (laughs) I said that (her picking up Hindi) is very good because that is what you need, particularly in northern India where you are standing for the elections.

Shekhar Gupta: What other advice did you give her? That’s fascinating...

Jyoti Basu: No, we told her from the party that you must talk about a coalition. In India today, unfortunately after 56 years of Independence, we don’t have the two-party system. Two-party system will not work. So one has to have allies and you must seek allies even before the election. We shall support you, your candidates wherever we are not there. Kerala, Tripura...

Shekhar Gupta: What other personal advice did you give her besides saying learn Hindi and talk about coalitions?

Jyoti Basu: We told her that you must mix with the people that you know very well. You’ve been to meetings during Rajiv’s time also. You didn’t speak there but you went with him, you saw the reaction of the crowd.

Shekhar Gupta: So you think, after all this education, Sonia Gandhi has changed for the better? Is she a good learner?

Jyoti Basu: I think so. She has (learnt). I wish her certainly good luck. Because again, I say it is the biggest non-communal party in the Opposition. And they’ve committed mistakes. I hope they’ve understood some of that. I don’t know. But from their programme, I’m not very satisfied. So, if they can, Congress party can form a government along with allies...

Shekhar Gupta: But do you see some atonement, some prayashchit or some introspection, in the Congress party for what mistakes you think they’ve made?

Jyoti Basu: In the economic sphere, they made a lot of mistakes. And it is Dr Manmohan Singh who was the Finance Minister. He started this, blindly accepting World Bank policies and IMF policies...We didn’t like that. And, of course, I asked him once. He said but in my time not a single public sector undertaking was sold. Now they’ve modified it a bit. I see in the programme, their programme. But it will be a common minimum programme (for a coalition), it cannot be their programme.
Shekhar Gupta: But that is the other issue. The issue of economic reforms. Now just the exit polls have seen the markets dropping and stock markets falling. There is a lot of anxiety about economic reform and the direction of India’s economy. Would you say that this is an undue concern?

Jyoti Basu: No, no, this is very much...people are concerned with the economy. And learning from the past mistakes, the mistakes of the BJP government and all that, we should work out a programme where we can stand on our own feet but also get technology, finance and other things from outside, but we must be selective. Not blindly accept whatever these people are saying.
It is they who are responsible—the World Bank and IMF—for the downfall of the South-East Asian economy, which is gathering strength now. But that went down. Indonesia went down. And there’s a book written by the chief economic advisor to the World Bank...
Shekhar Gupta: (Joseph) Stiglitz?

Jyoti Basu: Stiglitz. I read that, it’s wonderful...from his experience...

Shekhar Gupta: Globalisation and its Discontents...

Jyoti Basu: Yes. He says it’s not working, particularly...

Shekhar Gupta: But even he’s not anti-reform, anti-globalisation or anti-reform.

Jyoti Basu: No, no, he’s for globalisation. That is there but the alternative he’s not said. He’s for globalisation, but he says mistakes have been committed so he resigned, and he’s written that book. We should also read that book, understand it. And then he says that is why Indonesia went down, South-East Asia went down, Latin America, some went down...

Shekhar Gupta: But India did not go down...

Jyoti Basu: India, that way, did not go down but did not advance...

Shekhar Gupta: As much as it could have...

Jyoti Basu: Our unemployment situation is very, very serious. Because, particularly the educated unemployed we find, because the programme which was there for the unemployed youth, all that is not there. Nothing has been done by the BJP government. The BJP-led government always talked about giving one crore jobs a year...

Shekhar Gupta: But it hasn’t happened...

Jyoti Basu: It hasn’t happened.

Shekhar Gupta: What you are saying is that reform or globalisation or free markets may by themselves not be bad but you have to be sensible in the way you implement those policies...
Jyoti Basu: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Shekhar Gupta: And to that extent, are you happy with the way your successor is doing?

Jyoti Basu: He has also invited foreigners here. When I was the chief minister, I went abroad four or five times to address industrialists there and talk about our economic situation. And some result was there...Philips, the Siemens and some others came. Then petrochemical...

Shekhar Gupta: So, you don’t see MNCs by themselves as a bad thing?

Jyoti Basu: No, this is capitalist globalisation, you see. It helps only a few. I find he writes, Stiglitz, that even in America, the poorer sections, the numbers of poor people have grown.

Shekhar Gupta: But when your government here or your successor’s invites MNCs, or gets Japanese investment, Mitsubishi...or gets the DFID money to close down loss-making companies, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Jyoti Basu: No, no, Mitsubishi was already there. During my time, they came. When Haldia Petrochemical (came up), I had to wait 13 years to get permission from the Central Government. Rajiv was there, he went along with me and then laid the foundation stone. So this is just one example. In Salt Lake, where you are questioning me, Bidhan Nagar we call it, there is the electronic sector where 17,000 boys and girls are working everyday. And Indira Gandhi, having promised to help me, did not help me. We helped ourselves.

Shekhar Gupta: But the kind of reform that your successor is now doing, you see that as good reform?

Jyoti Basu: Of course. That is within our policy. In 1994, I placed on the floor of the Assembly our industrial policy as asked by the...

Shekhar Gupta: Would you say that the argument in Indian politics today is not whether there should be reform or not but what kind or direction of reform should take place?

Jyoti Basu: Reform has to be there, there is no doubt about that. But the point is you must not forget 70 per cent of the people in the villages.

Shekhar Gupta: So, Mr Basu, if a new coalition government is put together under the leadership of the Congress, as you think is inevitable now, if that change happens, you would say there is no threat to economic reform?

Jyoti Basu: There has to be reform. But what I said was, earlier also, that we must not blindly follow the World Bank prescription and the IMF prescription. We should think on our own and then we should try to stand on our own feet. Now they’ve got a minister who is selling industries which during Indira’s time or Jawaharlal’s time were built up. That is why I said even the sick industries which are with the government, they should try to revive some of them. If they can’t, very well, close them, but they’re doing nothing of the kind. All sending it to BIFR, and so many are closing in various states.

Shekhar Gupta: Your own CM in the state is selling a lot of public sector industries. In fact, he is selling a lot of public sector industries with the DFID money.

Jyoti Basu: Yes, that’s right. With British aid. They have earlier also helped us in education.

Shekhar Gupta: So you approve of that?

Jyoti Basu: I have no objection. No conditionality should be there. And they come every year to see what is happening, on the ground.

Shekhar Gupta: So you don’t mind investment...

Jyoti Basu: If there are mutual interests, I don’t mind.

Shekhar Gupta:...or deregulation?

Jyoti Basu: No, but this policy which the Congress government had about industries, that policy, of course, they had to give up because of outside pressure and our pressure also. Our industrialists, when they used to go to Delhi, they used to be told if you are investing in Bengal, then there is no hope. If you go anywhere else, we sign. Now that system is no longer there. That has helped us.

Shekhar Gupta: But when you start building this coalition, if it comes to that, then there are partners, Mulayam Singh Yadav for example, who are very opposed to the idea of somebody from foreign origin becoming PM. You think that problem is now solvable?

Jyoti Basu: I think it will be solved. It will be solved. If they are the biggest party, the strongest party with a lot of MPs, then how can one object? If they elect Sonia as their president or leader of the party in Parliament? But anyway, we have to discuss.

Shekhar Gupta: And if they are the biggest party you cannot also tell them what to do and what not to do.
Jyoti Basu: What, how can they dictate to them? Only thing is we want a common minimum programme, I say again and again. It is very, very important for us, which we had during the 12-party coalition government which we supported from outside...

Shekhar Gupta: But that did not happen when the UF government was there. Too many conditions were put, the Congress will not come in, the Cong will come in, there will not be a steering committee...

Jyoti Basu: No, Congress itself agreed that it will support from outside. So we accepted it. Only in my party, there was division (laughs). Anyway, we worked for that coalition.

Shekhar Gupta: In fact, that’s the question that I know you expect to be asked everytime somebody speaks with you. The division in your party and what you described as the ‘historic blunder’.

Jyoti Basu: Yes, I still think it was a historic blunder. Why historic? Because such an opportunity does not come. History does not give such opportunity. Knowing who I am—a Marxist, a Communist, in the party here, for so many years I’ve been in politics, they invited me because they had no other prime minister in view. So we thought that even if we last for one year in that coalition with myself as the prime minister and our party joining it, then people would understand backward sections of the people. In many places, they don’t even know us. What we are all about.

Shekhar Gupta: Why do you say the opportunity is lost? It could happen again in this election?
Jyoti Basu: It could but at that time, I said I don’t see any possibility. Even today, you see, if in the coalition the Congress wins, for instance, the largest non-communal party, they have to agree to a minimum programme. Otherwise...

Shekhar Gupta: And then, for a coalition to last, it will have to have the Congress in it and in front...
Jyoti Basu: That’s right. And they have no experience of running a coalition and that is our difficulty. But I am sure that they will learn. People will teach them.

Shekhar Gupta: Tell me, one last word. The other senior politician in our system besides you is Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee. You’ve known him for a long time. What is your view on him?

Jyoti Basu: I know all of them. Advani, I know. V P Singh sent me to him before the break-up of the government (saying) please prevent him from this rath yatra. I went to his house, I sat there, argued with him. He would not agree. And again, he’s started this rath yatra. And thousands were killed at that time.

Shekhar Gupta: But you’ve said uncomplimentary things about him. I think you’ve called the BJP barbarians and you said you will never speak with Mr Advani again.

Jyoti Basu: Yes, yes. But he asked me. After a meeting here four years back, he called me to Raj Bhawan (and said) that ‘I told the crowd that I’ll ask you why you call us barbarians and uncivilised’. I said I am naming nobody but three of your ministers were there when Babri Masjid was being brought down. And I’m talking about what you’ve done. That time, the Christian killings had not started. Later on, that happened.
Shekhar Gupta: Would you still call them barbarians?

Jyoti Basu: What they’re doing is certainly barbarian. What happened where Gandhiji was born, what happened there, is it imaginable? After 56 years of Independence?

Shekhar Gupta: But would you still say you will never speak to Mr Advani again?

Jyoti Basu: But Gujarat, you know. Prime Minister went, I think, after three days. He said how can I show my face. But Modi is a ‘good person’. This is a mask. I don’t like it.

Shekhar Gupta: But would you still say you will never speak with Mr Advani again?

Jyoti Basu: Who knows? Politicians must speak. Enemies or friends, that is a different matter, you see. I didn’t like his rath yatra the second time.
Shekhar Gupta: And you call Mr Vajpayee a mask in the context of Gujarat. But overall, what’s your view on him, as a person, politician, statesman?

Jyoti Basu: As a person, he’s quite a gentleman. An educated person, all that I knew for a long time. And when he was, I think, foreign minister, that time also he behaved. But he himself says he’s RSS. He depends on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal. But that mask has now fallen, fortunately, before the elections. I am happy about that.

Shekhar Gupta: Well, Mr Basu, I know you are beaming. I think you are looking at very interesting politics in the weeks to come. Thank you very much for finding time for us. And I know no opportunity is ever lost forever. I know you are around. And you never know what may happen.

Jyoti Basu: Well, we are optimistic (laughs).

Full text published in INDIAN EXPRESS on
Monday, May 03, 2004.