By Md Amin
FILLING the void created by the demise of Comrade Jyoti Basu would be very difficult and would take much time. The entire party has to make efforts and continue the struggle for achieving the aims and ideals for which Comrade Basu strove till his last. There is no other way.
I had had an opportunity to work closely with Comrade Jyoti Basu over the last 60 years and during this time I learnt from him a lot, which I will remember till my last breath. I first met Comrade Jyoti Basu in 1950 (it was actually March 29, 1950), at a public meeting in Alam Bazaar, Baranagar. He was the main speaker at the rally. This is how it happened.
At that time, with the support of the Congress party and also the police, reactionary forces were at that time unleashing communal riots in our area. Once they cut electricity at the dusk time and began to systematically burn the houses belonging to the Muslims in the area. The Muslims could not even flee to safety as the goons had already encircled the area from three sides, with the Hoogly river being on the fourth side. The police fired at the victims, in connivance with the rioters.
At that time, around 5000 Muslims took shelter in a jute mill in the area. The Army reached the spot at 3 in the morning and restored some order. The Muslims went without food for three days. The authorities forced the refugees from Pakistan into the empty houses. The district magistrate came and ordered the Muslims to go to Pakistan. Our party was then a banned party, and was also a small one. Our efforts to stop the riots failed. In fact, the then party leadership had to perforce ask the Muslims members to leave for East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and return after restoration of peace. I also left and could return only after six months.
When peace returned and the ban on the party was also lifted, there was organised a public meeting in Alam Bazaar, which was addressed by Comrade Jyoti Basu. He told in the meeting very clearly that we had to struggle for rehabilitation of those who had lost their homes during the riots. He explained how any move to remove the refugees forcibly settled in the Muslims’ homes would only create more tension and not solve the problem. It was then that I met Comrade Basu for the first time. We had only three MLAs at that time, with Comrade Basu as the assembly group’s leader. His speeches on rehabilitation were widely reported and keenly followed by everyone. The party kept up the pressure on the government on this issue. However, only in 1967, after the first United Front government came to power, was it possible to rehabilitate these uprooted people. It vindicated the correct understanding Comrade Jyoti Basu had had on this issue.
The following example illustrates Comrade Jyoti Basu's role in building the trade union movement in Bengal. The party had assigned us to work in Titanagar area. A strike was held in a jute mill in the area and the struggle continued for five years. Comrade Basu effectively raised the issue in the assembly and supported the workers in the field. It was after protracted struggles that the mill was reopened, and on that day he reached the place at 6 in the morning to take part in the happy occasion. That struggle was a very tough one as the area was a stronghold of the Congress party. But Comrade Jyoti Basu kept encouraging us and we felt confident with his strong support to the cause of the workers. Slowly we began spreading to other factories. In fact, 1967 was a memorable year for our trade union movement in Bengal. On the one hand, we were spreading in many factories and mills, and on the other, there was an upsurge in the rural areas due to land struggles. Comrade Jyoti Basu, as the home minister in the United Front, made it very clear that the police would not interfere in the disputes concerning land redistribution or in the industrial disputes.
When the second United Front government was formed in 1969, with Comrade Jyoti Basu as the deputy chief minister and home minister, I was also inducted into the ministry as the transport minister after being elected for the first time from Titanagar constituency. Since then, I had the occasion to see Comrade Jyoti Basu's administrative efficiency in government from close quarters. He made it a point to tell the ministers as well as the officers that the ministers would have the final say on any matter. But, at the same time, he told the officers too to convey their viewpoints on any issue without fear. He was clear that given the limitations of the bourgeois landlord set-up, all problems of the people could not be solved. So our striving would be to provide as much relief to people as possible. This has been vindicated by practice.
Another aspect of Comrade Jyoti Basu, which helped the movement a great deal, was that he made effective use of the United Front government as an instrument of struggle. While being the deputy chief minister and home minister in that government, he used to visit the strike places and openly announce his support for the struggle. This always bolstered the strength of the workers. As the rural people too clearly saw that land distribution was undone whenever the United Front’s government was dismissed, our support widely grew among the rural masses. It was thus that the Left Front came to power in 1977.
Another remarkable feature of Comrade Jyoti Basu was his absolute coolness in difficult situations. I remember an incident in the state assembly, which occurred in 1969. There took place a tussle between the armed police and political activists outside the assembly building. Provoked by a group of Congressmen, the police personnel stormed the assembly building and indulged in vandalism. Quite incensed, they entered Comrade Basu's room also. There were only two MLAs with him at that point, and I was one of them. Comrade Basu remained cool and said in a stern voice, “You think you can do anything as you have guns. Go out.” The policemen sheepishly went out without uttering a word. While dealing with his colleagues or staff also, even if he was angered, Comrade Basu would convey his displeasure in such a manner that they would not feel hurt. I never saw anger in his face.
Comrade Jyoti Basu's firmness in dealing with communal riots was remarkable. As the chief minister, he would directly visit the spots of trouble or mischief, announce publicly that his was not a Congress government and that orders had been issued to shoot the miscreants. I remember how his handling of the situation brought the riots in Jagatdal under control within 24 hours of occurrence. Similarly, it was his leadership that prevented any incident of attack on the Sikh community in 1984. at that time, Comrade Basu publicly announced that not just the Left Front government but the party too was in the forefront to protect the Sikhs. In fact, when I recently visited Hoshiarpur for a public meeting under the CITU’s auspices, some of the Sikhs recalled this exemplary record of the Left Front government.
In sum, Comrade Jyoti Basu proved himself not only as a theoretical leader but also as a field-level leader. I have truly learnt a lot from him and I cherish the experiences of working alongside him. I am confident that the party would take forward the aims and ideals for which Comrade Basu strove for all his life.
(As told to N S Arjun in Kolkata on January 18, 2010.)