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.

Election Speech on Doordarshan, May 02, 2004

Fellow citizens,

The Indian people are going to the polls to elect a new Lok Sabha and to form a new government. These elections are taking place after six years of BJP rule. These six years have been a period when communal forces have been given systematic support to challenge the basis of India’s secular and democratic foundations. What happened in Gujarat in the year 2002, when State-sponsored violence against the minorities took place, is a warning which cannot be ignored by any citizen who cherishes a secular, strong and united India.

The basis for the threat to India’s secular-democratic edifice comes from the communal ideology which is propagated insidiously by the BJP and its mentor – the RSS. Setting India on the path of progress and strengthening national unity requires the rejection of all communal ideologies and the parties and leaders who represent them.

Six years is a sufficiently long time for a government to fulfill its commitments and render an account to the people. What has the BJP-led government to report? Today all sections of the people face the problem of unemployment. The BJP-led government boasts that it is responsible for the economic growth. This growth has not led to jobs being created for the people. The kisans who constitute the bulk of the rural population are facing difficulties as never before because of the policies of the government. The agrarian crisis has led to the distressing scene of farmers committing suicide in despair in a number of states.

The economic policies of the BJP-led government have benefited only 10 per cent of the people. May be some of them feel good today.

The removal of poverty in a country like India cannot be achieved without land reforms. The experience of West Bengal testifies to the role land reforms play for the upliftment of the rural people. Land reforms and distribution of surplus land to the landless has disappeared from the agenda of the BJP-led government.

India has to develop by industrialisation and acquisition of new technology. But this cannot be done at the cost of the interests of domestic industry. The policies pursued have been harmful for Indian industry, in particular the small and medium sectors. Closing of factories and industrial estates has become the common feature all over the country.

The BJP-led government has acted against the interests of the states by starving them of funds and imposing their dictates on fiscal matters. Even the constitutional entitlement of resources for the states are sought to be curtailed by conditionalities.

The CPI (M) and the Left parties have an alternative set of policies:

· Increased public investment in agriculture and infrastructure.
· Implementation of land reforms.
· Strengthening of the panchayati raj system.
· Decentralisation of powers to the states.
· Strengthening of the public distribution system.
· Unearthing black money and realisation of tax-dues to enhance resource mobilisation.
· Protection of democratic rights including the right to strike.
· Separation of religion from State and politics.
The CPI (M) and the Left parties will struggle for these alternative policies when elected to Parliament.

Defeating the BJP and its allies is the foremost task in these elections.

I appeal to you to vote for the CPI (M) and Left candidates in these elections. In other seats, please support candidates of the secular-democratic parties who can defeat the BJP. Our goal should be the formation of an alternative secular government at the centre.

Thank you all.


Speech of Jyoti Basu at the Inaugural Session Of 18th Congress of CPI (M) held in Delhi from 6th to 11th April, 2005.

DEAR comrades,

I am very happy to greet you all on the occasion of the 18th congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). I convey my best wishes to the delegates of the fraternal parties from abroad.

For us, the Party congress is an important event. We look back at the work we have done based on the decisions we took in the last congress, we review the effect of the work undertaken and we chalk out the political line and the direction of organisational work for the next three years.

We can look back with a certain degree of satisfaction at what we have accomplished since the 17th congress at Hyderabad. We have succeeded in defeating the BJP-led alliance in the Lok Sabha elections in cooperation with other democratic and secular forces. It was time for the BJP with its misrule and communal politics to go. We were able to put in place a secular government at the centre by extending support to the United Progressive Alliance government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh. We were also able to win recognition from the people for our political line and get the highest number of seats in the Lok Sabha ever.

While these are achievements, a lot more remains to be done and we cannot be complacent. The BJP and its mentor, the RSS, still command substantial influence in the country. For six years, they were able to use the government to penetrate the State apparatus. The BJP has vacated office but its pernicious legacy remains. It is necessary to detoxify the system, so that secularism is firmly established.

The UPA government is led by the Congress. It should introspect. Can it continue with the same economic policies of indiscriminate liberalisation and privatisation. Will there then be any difference between its policies and those of the BJP? The people expect the UPA government to fulfill the commitment that its policies will be for the aam admi. This requires first of all a realisation that liberalisation has only benefited 10 per cent of our people. We must chalk out a path of development which is founded on concern for the vast masses who have not received the benefits of growth which is touted in terms of percentage of the GDP. We must rely primarily on our domestic resources for investment. Foreign direct investment should come in based on our national priorities and on the principle of "mutual interest". The public sector in the strategic and key sectors need to be strengthened.

In West Bengal, where the Left Front government has ruled for 28 years continuously, we have sought to put into practice our alternative path within the given serious constraints in the system. Land reforms have been the cornerstone of our agrarian reforms which opened the way to rapid agricultural development. We have won the three-tier panchayat elections continuously for six times. Decentralisation of powers through the panchayati system has enabled the peasantry and the rural poor to have a say in development and dislodge the dominance of the landlords and the rural rich. These are vital measures which are essential if India’s rural poor who constitute a large part of world’s poor are to be freed from their poverty-stricken lives. In the sphere of industry, despite serious constraints and discrimination by most central governments, we are moving forward and taking rapid strides in industry now.

Our Party is not yet in a position to implement alternative policies all over the country. That requires a qualitative increase in the strength of the Party, its Left and democratic allies.

How to strengthen and expand the Party and the mass organisations all over the country is a subject which must be seriously addressed by this Party congress. I have worked in the communist movement for more than 64 years. I am past 90 now and in bad health. I am hopeful that the Party will analyse our weaknesses and take concrete and bold steps to spread the communist movement to different parts of the country.

I am happy to see that the Delhi state unit of the Party has undertaken this big task of hosting the Party congress and received a good response from the citizens of Delhi.

I thank you all.



Beloved Comrade Surjeet,

I am deeply grieved to hear about your continued illness. I was just now reminiscing how for long years we have been working together particularly after the split of the party. I can never forget the role you played in organising and giving leadership to the Party.

I particularly remember the day when due my illness I wanted to leave the responsibility given to me by the Party, as Chief Minister of West Bengal. You came and met me in my house. Then you seemed to be nervous, thought that this may adversely affect the Party. After discussion then we worked out a formula that we would create a new post of Deputy Chief Minister, who will later on be the Chief Minister and I shall not stand for election. That formula worked very well. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was very well accepted both by the Party and the people of West Bengal. So, at the end of my tenure, I resigned and Buddhadeb took over the Chief Ministership. I also remember with pride how you helped the Party to flourish in different provinces.

I also remember how you did agree with me that the unity of the Left parties in West Bengal is essential and I feel proud that the Left Front government carried on thirtyone years with the support and love of the people of the state.

I remember you also played host to my family when we went to Punjab. Though I am older than you and now almost bedridden, I am confident that our Party will go forward from success to success in many parts of India. Despite many crests and ebbs people will finally emerge victorious and go in for a classless society free from exploitation of any form.

At the end, I want to remember with pride the role you played in the new political situation in country to keep the communal BJP at bay. We extended our outside support to Congress, incumbent upon the basis of the Common Minimum Programme and the interests of the people and the country.

Jyoti Basu
May 21, 2008

From India News Network (INN)
Kolkata, May 21, 2008


INTERVIEW: FRONTLINE, May 20 - June 02, 2006

`We are happy
but not complacent'

Q:What are your feelings on the Left Front's huge victory in the Assembly elections?

I am extremely happy that we have got a two-thirds majority, with more votes and more seats. Before our State secretary Anil Biswas passed away... I was very happy to hear him say that we would win this time with more votes and more seats. I took up his statement in the meetings that I addressed... I told people that I wanted to see the seventh Left Front government and requested voters to make it happen... Seven times in a row - this has happened nowhere else in India before. ... But first of all, I am thankful to the people of West Bengal, and not just to those who voted for us, for making it such a peaceful election, like all elections since 1977, and we have been praised by the Election Commission.

But why five-phased elections, I haven't yet understood. I feel it was an insult to the people of West Bengal. And we maintained that they would give a fitting reply to the E.C. [Election Commission]. That has also happened.

I have also been saying in speeches that in parliamentary democracy, the Opposition is very important, whether big or small. But it should be a responsible Opposition. I have requested the Opposition in my speeches that we should get together to pass resolutions unitedly the Assembly. But being the Opposition of course it is their duty to oppose the policies they think are anti-people. We in our turn will go to the people to tell them of our programmes, and finally let the people be the ultimate judge. But of course, we don't have a responsible Opposition yet. With this huge mandate, our responsibility has grown.

We are happy and rejoicing, but we are not complacent. We were able to implement 90 per cent of the projects we undertook in the last government. The remaining 10 per cent, for one reason or another we could not achieve - maybe [the] Central government was responsible, maybe we were. That has to be seen to. You see, we never hide anything from the people, even our negative points. We ask our workers to listen to the criticism against us and if there is anything positive that can be done, then it has to be done. If not, then the people should be told so directly. This is the job of the people's representatives in the panchayats and municipalities...

After we won the election in 1977 a huge crowd had gathered to greet us. I told them then that we would not rule from Writers' Buildings [the main State Secretariat] alone but also with the people. The same policy is being pursued. When I decided to retire on grounds of my failing health we created the post of Deputy Chief Minister, which went to Buddhadeb [Bhattacharjee]. He has done well and has led the team properly. He has been accepted not only by the party, but also by the people.

Q: When neoliberal policies are being pursued at the Centre, what challenges will the CPI(M) face in both supporting the UPA government at the Centre, and protecting the interests of the working class, trade unions and the small farmers?

This is a peculiar political situation in India now. The Congress - we have been fighting it for 45 years. We are now supporting it at the Centre - but on condition of implementing of the Common Minimum Programme [CMP]. Unfortunately we are not happy with all their economic policies and foreign policies. We have always supported the Congress non-aligned foreign policy from [Jawaharlal] Nehru's time down to Indira Gandhi's. But we feel they have abandoned that way, and dependence on America is growing. We don't like it at all. We have said, for example, in profitable industries, foreigners must not get the majority share. [Prime Minister] Dr Manmohan Singh, earlier when he was the Union Finance Minister, started following the advice of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund [IMF]. That must not happen, for these organisations are not always correct in their assessments. Some of the Congress recent economic policies, such as the privatisation of airports and so on we find to be anti-people. Now that the elections are over, we will meet and review how much they have digressed from the CMP, both in economic policies and in foreign policy.

It is clearly written in the CMP that we will pursue an independent foreign policy, but they are leaning on the side of the U.S. [United States], the World Bank and the IMF, who are not always correct. As I have said, there are always conditionalities attached. While we want foreign investments, which will be of mutual interest, generate employment and spread knowledge, we will not accept any conditionalities.

To give you an example, when I was Chief Minister, we asked the World Bank to lend us Rs.900 crores for infrastructure and road development. At that time I went to Washington. They gave me a good lunch, spoke very well, and I thought that the project was happening. But after three months a World Bank team came and asked the Finance Minister to show them the finance budget. He said they were welcome to see the budget that has been passed, but it would be illegal to show them the State's future budget. So we didn't get that money, and had to borrow Rs.500 crores from the Asian Development Bank.

In 1994, when I was Chief Minister, I placed a statement on our industrial policy on the floor of the Assembly that was accepted by the Left parties, and we have been pursuing that. We emerged first in agriculture, fisheries and social forestry, but we were not progressing in industry, where we were the best among the States at one time. Now I think we are fourth. But we are not to be blamed for that. It was the Congress government's licensing policy and freight equalisation policy of iron, steel and coal, the foundation of all industries, that set us back.

Q: What are your views on the reformist agenda followed by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government?

I don't know why newspapers go on writing that some of us are against reforms. We are not against reforms. Buddha, in the time of the last government went abroad a few times to get investments into the State; I went to Munich twice to get Siemens here; I went to Holland to [see] Philips for them to expand their activities here. Abroad too, I found, there was propaganda against us; industries should think twice before investing in West Bengal because they strike work all the time. This is very incorrect. It is true, we have given the right to strike not only to workers, but also to government employees, which is prevalent nowhere else in India. But there have been no major strikes in the last 30 years. We keep telling the workers that it is in their interest to look after the industry, if you have demands then place them in front of the management. If there is no agreement then come to the government. Our Labour Department will look into it. But if the management does not listen to legitimate demands, then you can go on strike. We shall never send the police to break up a justified strike.

As for reforms, what is the panchayat system? Is that not a major reform? More than 70 per cent of our people live in the countryside. Take the case of [the] Haldia Petrochemicals complex, a project worth over Rs.5,000 crores. I had to wait for 11 years to get permission from the Central government. That project is making huge profits now, and more than 70,000 people are getting employment in the downstream industries. I remember there was an electronic project that Indira Gandhi had promised to help us with. After keeping me waiting for one year she said that her officers, who had set up a committee to look into this matter, unanimously told her that no investment in electronics should be made in West Bengal, because it is a border State. Ridiculous!

But there is no denying the fact that poverty is still here. Quite some time ago there was a report by the World Bank, which said that 53 per cent of the people of West Bengal live below the poverty line. This was brought down to 23 per cent a few years ago. I don't know exactly what it is now. Unemployment is a very serious issue all over India. Our government has laid a lot of stress on dealing with this problem and the results are showing. The Salim Group has come from Indonesia, the Tatas will be manufacturing their Rs.1 lakh car here, Wipro is here. We are trying to promote small and medium industries to meet the unemployment situation. But our infrastructure is not that good. The seventh Left Front government will have to remedy this.

These are all reforms, and the whole process of reforms started from 1977. So I don't understand what the newpapers mean when they talk about us as anti-reformists.

Q: Soon after the victory you said that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's role at the Centre should increase. Could you elaborate on that?

We have won not only in West Bengal, but in Kerala also, and very convincingly. So the Left is strengthened, and the Congress-led government depends on the Left's support, because we are in a position to throw them out of power any time. But we don't want to do that, and we are having our Polit Bureau meeting [May 27 - 28] to discuss the situation. Personally, it is getting very difficult for me and I shall ask them to release me, but I know they won't do that. This time our meeting will be on our relationship with the Centre.

Q: You were the longest-serving Chief Minister in the country. Please tell us something of the changes that have occured in the CPI(M) and the Left Front since coming to power in 1977.

The Communist Party split in 1964, and our party, the CPI(M), came into being. Our policy was to unite Left forces. Earlier also we had formed coalitions to form governments with some leaders who had left the Congress and formed a new party called the Bangla Congress. That government lasted for nine months and then 13 months. In 1971, when the Bangladesh War was on, we put up a great performance, and that too at a time when Indira Gandhi's popularity was at its highest, and she was winning wherever elections were held. At that time we tried to unite the Left parties and that had a great effect on the people. There has been a change in our party constitution. We are working in a capitalist system in a parliamentary democracy and we should take whatever little advantage [there is] from that system to come closer to our goals, which is of course far away. I don't know whether it will take 50 years or 100 years for a classless society without exploitation to come into being.

We are also looking at what is happening in China. The Communist government was set up there one year after our Independence. What they are doing is Marxism-Leninism with Chinese characteristics. That is essentially Marxism, for nowhere has Marx said that the pattern should be the same everywhere. We are studying the Chinese system, we have been to China and met their leaders and we want China to come here too. In fact, China is setting up a power project in one of our districts, and the power [it will produce] is expected to be among the cheapest in the country. We want more trade between India and West Bengal and China.

The sixth government also laid a lot of stress on the diversification of agriculture and food processing. Though not much advance has been made in that field, the seventh Left government will complete that process.

Q: What is the future of the Left in Indian politics?

In the last party congress held in New Delhi, we got reports from all the States. It is very unfortunate that though we are very strong in three States, in some of the other States, even though we have good mass organisations, the party is not strong. We took a decision that, from the position we occupy in Central politics now, we should strengthen our party and mass organisation, for strengthening only the party will not help. Unfortunately, mass organisations are not there in most parts of India, but of late there has been some growth, for example this time in Tamil Nadu we got nine seats. But that is not enough. We have to advance in for instance, places like Uttar Pradesh and Madhaya Pradesh, [where] we hardly have any base.

Q: So how long do you think it will be before there is a Left government at the Centre?

I don't know if I will be alive to see that [smiles]. I don't think it will be possible in the immediate future, but an attempt has to be made to strengthen ourselves and also talk to other non-communal parties. The older generation has seen us in the Opposition here, they have also seen the amount of repression we had to suffer. Our party was declared illegal after Independence in 1948. Most leaders were jailed or went underground. Then, after the High Court gave us legal status, we contested the first elections in 1952, and, without practically any organisation, we got 28 seats. I think at that time there were 280 seats in the Assembly. Since then we have been growing. There was a time when we thought that no Left government would be allowed. In fact, E.M.S. Namboodirpad was removed from office in Kerala by Jawaharlal Nehru and President's Rule was imposed. Indira Gandhi was the president of the Congress. But we never gave up. But our one defect has been that the Marxism-Leninism we talk about [has] not spread among the younger generation. But all that has started [to] change. It is very important to raise their consciousness.
Published on FRONTLINE, Vol. 23 :: No. 10
May. 20 - Jun. 02, 2006