At 95, Jyoti Basu is the sagacious counsellor

By Special Correspondent

The Hindu, Friday, Jul 10, 2009

KOLKATA: The body might have become frail. But the spirit has not. The doyen of Left politics, Jyoti Basu was almost patriarchal in his assurance to a group of admirers who called on him at his residence on his 96th birthday on Wednesday that he is with those who want development in West Bengal.

Bouquets and good wishes continued to reach him a day later, on Thursday.

His birthday remark carried with it the unmistakable message of hope — coming from one who has been stoic in the face of reversals suffered by the Left Front in the State in the April-May Lok Sabha elections, a front that he was largely instrumental in creating and which only last month entered its 33rd year in power.

It was because of its policies aimed at “development and progress” in the State that the people had stood by the Left Front over the past decades, the veteran Marxist had said in a statement read out at a rally organised by the front to kick-start its Lok Sabha election campaign earlier this year in the city.

Mr. Basu’s absence on the podium was certainly felt that Sunday afternoon in February.

Ups and downs are but natural for one whose political career spans seven decades; the Left Front’s debacle in the Lok Sabha elections and in the elections to certain civic bodies last month are the more recent downs.

But Mr. Basu has never been one to despair, confides one of his closest aides who spends hours with him every day.

Mr. Basu’s advice to his associates in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been simple: take corrective measures to win back the confidence of the people. It finds an echo in the statements by the party’s various bodies — from the Polit Bureau to the West Bengal State Committee — as the CPI(M) leadership introspects on the causes of the setbacks it suffered in the recent elections.

“We were not able to get the people to understand the stand we took in the elections,” he conceded in an interview to Ganashakti, the CPI(M)’s Bengali mouthpiece, on the occasion of the Left Front stepping into yet another year in power last month.

Mr. Basu might not — for health reasons — be seen at party meetings and Left Front rallies. But his words of advice have had key players in the country’s political landscape visiting him at his Salt Lake residence time and again.

Among them, in recent times, was Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, after her party’s resounding success in the Lok Sabha polls. While congratulating her, Mr. Basu expressed his hope that she would ensure “development in West Bengal.”

To both ally and adversary, he remains the sagacious counsellor; to the people he is a living legend.

Jyoti Basu pitches for the future

Ananya Dutta & Indrani Dutta

The Hindu, July 9, 2009

Addresses gathering at sombre yet spirited birthday event at his home

KOLKATA: “To those well-wishers of West Bengal who want development and prosperity for the State, I’m with you,” veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu, 95, said here on the occasion of his birthday on Wednesday, clearly pitching for the future of the State of which he was Chief Minister from 1977 to 2000. He was born on July 8, 1914.

Addressing a gathering at his Salt Lake residence, the frail-looking but cheerful nonagenarian said it was his wish that the State develop and its people prosper.

He did not mount a podium that was erected outside and chose to address the gathering from the foyer.

“We usually don’t observe birthdays, but since it’s the will of so many people, I usually come here for a few minutes. This year I’m unwell and bedridden, but I’m very pleased to see you all. I welcome all of you,” he said in a voice that was just about audible but retained the steely spirit of a political patriarch.

‘Pather Panchali,’ the non-governmental organisation that has organised his birthday events year after year, announced this time that it would distribute for the Cyclone Aila-affected children textbooks for Class 9 to 12, and notebooks imprinted with Mr. Basu’s picture.

Mr. Basu’s frail health made the occasion an essentially sombre one. Both Transport Minister Subhash Chakraborty and the former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, spoke on the occasion in a quivering voice. “We want him to be with us for many more years,” said Mr. Chatterjee. “I’ve travelled within the country and elsewhere, but seldom have I come across a leader who is so well-loved by the people.”

“He’s the one person who can uphold the Communist movement,” said Mr. Chakraborty. Expressing the hope that the slippages witnessed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the recent elections in the State would not mean that West Bengal had strayed from Communist ideals, he said: “The trust of the people shall never be betrayed.”

A number of Left Front leaders including Fire and Emergency Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee, senior Forward Bloc leader Ashok Ghosh and Kolkata Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya were present.

Children from a number of city schools joined in. Some of them dressed as traditional ‘chhau’ dancers stepped daintily to drumbeats. Others formed a float showing a Chinese dragon, while more of them lined up with balloons — a balloon for every year Mr. Basu’s eventful life.

Mamata’s greetings

On behalf of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, the Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly, Partha Chatterjee, visited Mr. Basu later in the day. “Mamata Banerjee is in New Delhi for the railway budget, but she has conveyed her wishes for his long life,” Mr. Chatterjee said.

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee called up on the phone to wish him long life. Mr. Basu personally thanked Mr. Mukherjee for having found the time to call him.

Left Front Committee chairman Biman Bose spent about 30 minutes with Mr. Basu. Other visitors included yesteryear actors including Madhabi Mukherjee. Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi had come on Tuesday to convey his best wishes.

Through the day on Wednesday, scores of visitors came in to wish the veteran.

Several Kolkata newspapers brought out supplements to mark the day, and television channels ran repeats of his interview recordings and clippings of a documentary made on Mr. Basu by award-winning director Gautam Ghosh.

Mr. Basu, who perhaps for the first time did not cast his vote this time due to poor health, had expressed his regret at not being able to campaign for the party. In April 2008, he was unable to attend the Coimbatore Party Congress due to failing health.

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