Parliament pays tribute to Jyoti Basu

Tribute and closed eyes
New Delhi, Feb. 22: Jyoti Basu was never a member of Parliament, but the late communist received glowing tributes from Speaker Meira Kumar in the obituary references for former Lok Sabha members who died recently.

Kumar said Basu was an astute administrator and one of the leading figures of the communist and trade union movements in India as she heaped praise on the man who served as chief minister for a record 23 years.

There have been only a few instances when a person who never became a Lok Sabha member has received such praise during formal obituary references on the floor of the House. Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narain are among such leaders.

Kumar said Basu’s administrative acumen and political sagacity had left an indelible imprint on the country’s political canvas. “Even after demitting office of chief minister owing to his frail health, Basu continued to remain actively associated with several projects for the welfare of people. A multifaceted personality, Basu was also an accomplished author. He penned a large number of essays in the Bengali language which have been compiled and published in five volumes,” the Speaker said.

“In his demise, the country has lost a worthy son and a committed votary of the humanitarian values and a legislator par excellence. He rendered a yeoman service for the welfare and uplift of the weak and the downtrodden sections of the society.”

Railway minister Mamata Banerjee and a few members of her Trinamul Congress appeared to be in visible discomfort as the Speaker praised the departed communist.

Mamata closed her eyes and her party colleagues looked askance when Kumar said Basu worked steadfastly for the all-round development of Bengal, introduced land reforms and decentralised power by strengthening the panchayati raj system.

The Telegraph,February 23 , 2010

Hon. Members, you are all aware of the sad demise of Shri Jyoti Basu, former Chief Minister of West Bengal.

An astute administrator, Shri Basu has the unique distinction of being the longest serving Chief Minister in the country. He was the Chief Minister of West Bengal for more than 23 years, that is from June, 1977 to November, 2000. As the Chief Minister of West Bengal, he worked steadfastly for the all-round development of the State and introduced land reforms. A strong votary of decentralisation of power, he strengthened the Panchayati Raj system in the State. He rendered a yeoman service for the welfare and uplift of the weak and the downtrodden sections of the society.

In his long and distinguished political career, Shri Jyoti Basu’s stint as a legislator began when he was elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1946, and he continued to be its member till 2001 except for a short period from 1972 to 1977. He made his mark as the Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly between 1957 and 1967. He was twice the Deputy Chief Minister of West Bengal between 1967 and 1970.

Shri Basu, one of the pioneers of the Communist movement in India, was a leading figure in the Indian trade union movement. He was the Vice-President of the CITU since its inception in 1970.

A multifaceted personality, Shri Basu was also an accomplished author. He penned a large number of essays in Bengali language which have been compiled and published in five volumes.

Even after demitting the office of the Chief Minister owing to his frail health, Shri Basu continued to remain actively associated with several projects for the welfare of people. In his demise the country has lost a worthy son and a committed votary of the humanitarian values and a legislator par excellence. His administrative acumen and political sagacity have left an indelible imprint upon the political canvas of this country. His absence will always be felt in many walks of life.

Shri Jyoti Basu passed away on 17th January, 2010 at Kolkata at the age of 95 after a brief illness.

We deeply mourn the loss of these friends and I am sure the House would join me in conveying our condolences to the bereaved families.

Monday, February 22, 2010/ Phalguna 3, 1931 (Saka). The House met at 1225 hour

Omar recalls Jyoti Basu’s contributions

Jammu, Feb 22: Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah Monday paid tributes to Jyoti Basu, the five time West Bengal chief minister and the distinguished communist leader and termed Khawaja Sanaullah Bhat, former editor of the Daily Aftab and Sofi Ghulam Muhammad, editor Srinagar Times as doyens of journalism in Kashmir.

Winding up the obituary references in the State legislative Assembly on Monday, Omar recalled the contributions of the distinguished CPI(M) leader Basu and the services rendered by Khawaja and Sofi.Omar said Basu was a historic personality who became chief minister of West Bengal for five terms and always remained connected with the people at grass roots level.The Chief Minister said Basu nurtured secularism and socialism in India and referred to his attachment with Jammu and Kashmir as he had a very close affinity with Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah. “I myself got an opportunity to work with him in the political field,” he said.......

Rising Kashmir News, Thursday, February 18, 2010

A ‘jatra’ production on Jyoti Basu

KOLKATA: Seeking to cash in on the huge popularity of the late Marxist politician Jyoti Basu, a jatra (folk theatre) group here is going to mount a production on him.

Titled "Alor Sikha Amar Jyoti", the jatra, scheduled to go on stage by this month-end will begin with Basu's death on January 17 this year and then go back 40 years to 1972 when the leader engaged in confrontation with Congress party at Baranagar in Kolkata's northern fringe.

The manager of the jatra company 'Anjali Opera,' Prashanta Goswami, said he is looking to cash in on the popularity that was in evidence post the death of the leader as thousands of people attended his funeral procession.

''The facts will be presented through the voice of a 'journalist character' who having known Basu for a long time will chronicle the landmark events in the leader's life which will then be enacted,'' Goswami said.

After touching Basu's stint as opposition leader in the early 70s, his coming to power with a massive popular mandate in 1977, his historic public meeting following the electoral rout of Congress and his stint as chief minister of West Bengal from late 1970s till 2000 will all find place in the over three-hour-long production.

The jatra will also highlight Basu's landmark political decisions like land reforms and panchayat body elections that brought about a revolutionary change in agrarian rural Bengal.

Talented actor of small screen Gouri Shankar Panda will essay the role of Basu who was a thorough gentleman and a strict disciplinarian. ''We will touch upon his personal equation with leaders like diehard opponent Mamata Banerjee, Pranab Mukherjee, Sonia Gandhi and others among a galaxy of personalities that the leader had come in contact with in different stages of his life,'' Goswami said.

He, however, skirted a question if controversies surrounding his long rule in the state would be dealt with as well by stating that the jatra would be "acceptable to all sections of people," the objective being to highlight his towering personality.

The character of Basu's close friend and bitter political rival Siddhartha Shankar Roy will also be there in the play.

MAINSTREAM Tributes to Jyoti Basu

Monday 8 February 2010
Jyoti Basu is no more. After 17 days of valiant struggle (that first began when he was hospitalised on New Year’s Day having been struck by a bout of pneumonia) he finally succumbed to multi-organ failure and breathed his last at 11.47 am on January 17, 2010. On July 8 last year the former West Bengal CM—the longest-serving head of any State Government in independent India—had completed 95 years in age.

More than 28 years ago when one of Jyoti Basu’s closest colleagues in the communist movement, Bhupesh Gupta (both were of the same age), passed away in faraway Moscow on August 6, 1981, it was written in this journal’s August 15, 1981 issue: “Bhupesh Gupta was the living refutation of the worn-out canard that Communists are out to destroy the parliamentary system.”

This was all the more true in the case of Jyoti Basu who since 1946 played a memorable role in the Bengal legislature highlighting the struggles of the working masses outside.

Soon after independence the Communist Party of India had taken a disastrous course under that arch-priest of sectarianism, B.T. Ranadive, of trying to dislodge the Congress Government at the Centre through armed struggle by aping Mao Zedong’s fight against the Kuomintang and blindly pursuing the Zhdanov Thesis spelt out by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Soon the party, battered by self-inflicted isolation from the public, realised its folly and decided, under the guidance of Ajoy Ghosh, S.V. Ghate and S.A. Dange as well as strong pressure from P.C. Joshi, to change course and enter the arena of parliamentary struggles. At that time there was no dearth of anti-Communists and even others who felt that the Communists’ change of tactics was intended to subvert the Constitution and Parliament from within. By dint of their persisting endeavours in Parliament and State legislature to use the parliamentary and legislative forum to safeguard the interests of the toiling people Bhupesh Gupta, Jyoti Basu, Indrajit Gupta, Hiren Mukherjee and others (notable among whom were S.A. Dange and A.K. Gopalan) exposed the hollownese of such accusations. Among them Jyoti Basu played the key role leading a small group of Communist legislators in the West Bengal State Assembly and standing up to the establishment then headed by such a towering personality like Dr B.C. Roy who, as the second CM of the State after independence, showered immense affection on young Basu when the latter was the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly in the fifties. That was the source of the young Communist leader’s rise in popularity—that he could speak with authority countering Dr Roy’s statements helped him to grow in stature with the passage of time. He was also helped by the fact that there were then few of comparable capability among Communists and the Left in the State Assembly. However, by this one should not underestimate the efforts that he himself made to stand by the people both within the Assembly precincts and outside on the issue of rehabilitation of East Pakistani refugees or the question of the rise in tram fares or the problems faced by the peasantry in the countryside that culminated in the 1959 food movement and the loss of as many as 80 lives due to police attacks.

Even before he assumed power—first as the Deputy CM in the United Front governments of 1967 and 1969 and then as the CM following the Left Front’s sweeping victory in June 1977 after the Emergency—Jyoti Basu’s name had become synonymous with the Left movement in West Bengal. This, of course, assumed a new dimension with the Left Front returning to power in successive elections and Basu achieving the record of being the Chief Minister for more than 23 years at a stretch before he stepped down due to old age and physical ailments in November 2000. Yet the fact that he was around gave a kind of reassurance to the people and he was used on more than one occasion to sort out problems both within the party and outside even if a section of the central party leadership led by the haughty and arrogant Prakash Karat did everything possible, albeit unsuccessfully, to undermine his authority starting from the refusal to make him the PM in 1996 (dismissing the offer to that effect from the entire political spectrum) to the rejection of his counsel for restraint in the wake of the Indo-US nuclear deal and not withdraw the Left support to the UPA Government in 2008 (his advice was ‘oppose the deal tooth and nail everywhere but don’t pull down the UPA Government’ because of the unforeseen consequences of any such adventurist move).

Now that he has passed on to history, the Left and communist movement would no longer be the same and the decline of the Left in the State, already set in motion for sometime, would be expedited and reach its logical conclusion. For Jyoti Basu could command respect beyond the confines of the Left due to his reserved, aristrocrastic, bhadralok image as well as non-doctrinaire approach to problems, both stemming from his being a pragmatist par excellence and a successful practitioner of realpolitic. This is what marked him out as an outstanding leader for he was neither an erudite Marxist like Bhowani Sen (the State party secretary before and immediately after independence), nor a firebrand orator like Bankim Mukherjee or Somnath Lahiri, nor an organisational wizard like Promode Dasgupta, nor a parliamentarian of the level of Bhupesh Gupta or Hiren Mukherjee, nor a trade unionist of the calibre of Indrajit Gupta, nor a kisan leader of the standard of Harekrishna Konar. But where he scored over all of them was his uncanny ability to comprehend how best to negotiate in the whirlpool of parliamentary politics such as not to alienate himself and his party from the bulk of the electorate. In fact he could understand the pulse of the people better than any of his contemporaries in the State’s communist and Left movement.

Despite such qualities he lacked depth and vision. He might have been a good administrator in relative terms but could never be compared with someone like Dr B.C. Roy in the State. He enjoyed unequivocal endorsement both inside the party and outside and hence his functioning as the Chief Minister was never marred by dissidence in the ruling party or Front. But he could have used that advantage to initiate measures that would have rejuvenated West Bengal as a whole—particularly in industry, education and health—thereby bringing down the magnitude of poverty in the State. That, it must be pointed out in all frankness and candour, he did not—or perhaps could not—do. Except for a comprehensive change in land relations in the countryside between 1978 and 1982—on account of ‘Operation Barga’—and the elections to the three-tier panchayats there has not been any genuine endeavour to transform and modernise the State. Thus West Bengal has declined steadily in all areas (and most markedly in education and health) and even in the sphere of upliftment of the Muslim minority its performance is dismal as testified by the Sachar Commission report. As for the belated.

Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 6, January 30, 2010


Masks, cutouts, speech…Jyoti Basu everywhere at Left rally

KOLKATA,7th February, 2010: Three weeks after his death, Marxist patriarch Jyoti Basu remains the Left’s most beloved poster boy in West Bengal. In the form of masks, giant cutouts and banners, his face sprung up at a rally here Sunday organised by the state’s ruling Left Front constituents.

Thousands of people were seen wearing Basu masks at the Brigade Parade ground rally to protest rising food prices and political violence. The legendary Communist leader’s photo was also used in party leaflets urging people to strengthen the Left movement across the country. His posters were garlanded with jasmine.

A poster of Basu carrying his oft-repeated criticism about newspaper reports was also seen at the venue. “When market-driven dailies criticise us, it is an indication that we are on the right track,” the poster read.

It was the first Left Front rally at the Brigade Parade ground after the death of the Communist patriarch Jan 17, but many Left leaders peppered their speeches with Basu’s popular sayings and encouraged supporters to consolidate the working class’ struggle across the state.

The previous Brigade rally organised by the Left Front had been held almost a year ago - Feb 8, 2009. An ailing Basu could not attend it, but he had sent a message for party workers, which was read out by Left Front chairman Biman Bose.

“We remember that Basu used to say if ever the situation gets tough, keep your head cool and go ahead with millions of poor people. You will find that the problem will be solved automatically,” senior Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader and party’s politburo member Md. Amin told the gathering Sunday.

“He also taught us not to lose temper and reach out to the masses, as many as we can,” he said. Taking a queue from Basu’s political theories, Communist Party of India (CPI) state secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar said: “He (Basu) also told us to reach out to people and fight for their interests. Now we have to follow that path which he had shown to all of us.”

A minute’s silence was also observed in memory of the pragmatic Communist icon and his recorded speech brought the rally to an end. In fact, the taped speech was supposed to be played at the start, but a mechanical snag played spoilsport.

As the crowd started petering out after Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s address, Biman Bose announced that Basu’s speech would be blared through the public address system before the meeting ended. That stopped the exodus. The gathering welcomed the announcement with a huge round of applause.

“We Communists work till our last breath for the people,” the speech said, triggering another wave of applause.

Basu holds the record as the longest serving chief minister of India, after being at the helm of affairs in West Bengal from 1977 to 2000. He almost became India’s prime minister in 1996, but was held back by his party, CPI(M).

Basu died at the age of 95 at a private nursing home here following pneumonia.


KMC names civic worker's housing complex after Basu

KOLKATA, 2nd February (PTI): A housing complex for workers, named after late Marxist patriarch Jyoti Basu, was today handed over to 180 employees of Kolkata Municipal Corporation in eastern parts of the city.Handing over the keys of 180 one-room apartments, Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharjee said the corporation decided to name the housing after Basu in tribute to his struggle for the cause of the working class."The housing had been built over past two years on public-private partnership model on an area of 22 acres. And after Jyotibabu's death we decided to christen it Jyoti Basu Shramik Abasan," Bhattacharjee said.

Jyoti Basu stood for rights of workers, strikes: Biman Basu

KOLKATA, 2nd February (PTI): Calling upon industry to take good care of employees to maintain a congenial work atmosphere, CPI(M) politburo member Biman Basu today said Marxist patriarch late Jyoti Basu stood for the rights of workers and even supported strikes by employees to realise their legitimate demands."Jyoti Basu had worked in different fields. But he struggled a lot for establishing rights of workers. It may not be palatable to you, but the fact remains that Basu used to tell workers if their just demands were not met they can go for strikes," Basu, the West Bengal CPI(M) secretary, told a condolence meeting organised by seven business chambers here.Basu at the same time had wanted the workers to work hard to increase productivity and the management to take care of their interests, he said.

The genius of  Jyoti Basu


Jyoti Basu’s genius lay in a domain where theory, vision, polemic, and the ideological characteristics and organisational resources of a revolutionary movement encountered the challenge of working with the masses and winning them over.

DIMINUTIVE Jyoti Basu, who outlived most of his contemporaries, was a man of towering political stature – India’s pre-eminent and most charismatic Communist leader at the mass level and one of its most illustrious statesmen of the past century. His political career, representing the second-generation Communist experience, spanned an astonishing seven decades (1940-2010). As the longest-surviving of the nine founding members of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau and as independent India’s longest-serving Chief Minister by far (June 21, 1977 to November 6, 2000), he made game-changing contributions at the political, ideological, and administrative levels in West Bengal and a significant qualitative impact at the national level, transcending the regional limitations of the Left’s base and influence and winning him the offer of the Prime Minister’s job in 1996.

In fact, many people, including and notably the political economist Lord Meghnad Desai, believe Jyoti Basu was the best Prime Minister India never had, although it is clear to me that given the Left’s, and the United Front’s, modest numbers in Parliament and the total dependence on the Congress party for support, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s majority decision to turn down the offer was well-reasoned and sound. Everyone knows that Jyoti Basu famously characterised the decision as a “historic blunder”. His subsequent public explanations made it clear that this was not on account of any personal disappointment but because he reckoned that having a Communist veteran, even for a while, at the helm in New Delhi would have been a real opportunity (which was not going to be repeated for quite a while) to introduce and project the party’s programme and policies to the people of India. It is impossible to say from this distance how a Jyoti Basu prime ministership would have turned out and whether any surprises might have been in store. But it seems at least likely that India’s pre-eminent Communist leader would have been a sacrificial Prime Minister.

At any rate, this episode must not be allowed to become a distraction from the real significance of his game-changing helmsmanship of one of India’s largest and most important States. Along with another second-generation Communist veteran, Pramode Dasgupta, a genius of organisation, Jyoti Basu was the chief architect of the Left Front edifice and the remarkable socio-economic and political changes it brought to the lives of millions of working people in West Bengal.

Indeed the Left Front experience constitutes something of a world record: no Communist-led government in any other part of the world can boast such a succession of electoral victories. These victories have also been decisive, giving the Left better than a two-thirds majority and the CPI(M) an absolute majority each time in the Assembly. Not given to exaggeration or overstatement, Jyoti Basu allowed, matter-of-factly, that being elected for a five-year term seven times in succession (five of those under his direct leadership) was “not only an achievement without precedent in India but also in the history of parliamentary democracy in the world.” But he always emphasised that credit for this must go to “the conscious, struggling people” of the State.

The highlights of Jyoti Basu’s legacy as Chief Minister are well known: land reforms, which benefited millions of sharecroppers and other peasants and helped consolidate a rural class base that proved quite unbeatable over three decades; the democratisation and vitalisation of panchayati raj institutions; the establishment of the Haldia petrochemical complex, West Bengal’s biggest industrial initiative; the creation of an atmosphere of communal harmony and secularism across a large State; clean, transparent governance; and political stability of a new kind. There were significant under-achievements in the fields of education and public health and in terms of industrial development. But Jyoti Basu was not one to cover up deficiencies or shortcomings and in the last decade of his life he spoke candidly about what might have been achieved during his 23 years at the helm – had there been the necessary understanding backed by a concentrated effort.

The foundations for Jyoti Basu’s distinction were laid much before he became one of the country’s most important Chief Ministers. An educated and sophisticated man, trained in Britain to be a barrister, he joined the Communist Party when it was illegalised, worked in the trade union movement and in mass organisations, faced state repression, and was schooled in tough struggle before emerging as one of the top leaders of the communist movement – and after the split, as one of the founding members of the CPI(M)’s nine-member Polit Bureau. A byword for courage and steadfastness, he was also famous for his cool; he brushed off assassination attempts, which brought about no noticeable change in his style of mass politics.

Some CPI(M) leaders – most importantly, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, B.T. Ranadive, and M. Basavapunnaiah – distinguished themselves as exponents and developers of Marxist theory. Some others – most importantly, P. Sundarayya, Pramode Dasgupta, and Harkishan Singh Surjeet – contributed specially to party-building and organisational affairs. Jyoti Basu’s great strength was in another domain – where theory, vision, polemic, and the ideological characteristics and organisational resources of a revolutionary movement encountered the challenge of working with the masses and winning them over. His genius lay in this immensely difficult interface, where many an ideal, many a leader, and many a political ambition has failed to achieve notable success.

As a leader and administrator, he was reputed for his clarity of vision, his decisiveness, his gift for focussing on central issues and tasks, and his practicality. He was sometimes called a ‘pragmatist’, a label (employed approvingly in some quarters) that he amusedly but emphatically rejected. “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.’” A man of laconic speech and dry wit, he often sounded disarmingly simple, especially in interviews. From time to time, this trait was deliberately misinterpreted, by anti-Communist journalists as well as ultra-‘left’ dogmatists, as a lack of ideological and political depth. But it was essentially a gift 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 worked against the Muddle. He never tired of countering the misapprehension or distortion put out in the press about the character of the Left Front experiment. “It is not a socialist economy and system operating here. We have not made tall promises. 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.” This remark, made to me in an interview, was typical.

In this perspective, the Left Front, and the CPI(M), which leads it, continue to work against tough odds. They work within the constraints of the prevalent system of political economy 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 (in the words of Jyoti Basu) to “bring about such reforms by which people will feel that somebody is looking at them, and that we are trying to do our 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.”

But this must not be allowed to become a rationale or excuse for doing little. On the contrary, in the Jyoti Basu vision, West Bengal under the Left Front would be failing the people if it did not take “the fullest advantage” of the space and opportunities available today in the changing political, and to some extent policy, environment. Those who could not appreciate this duality in the situation would always find themselves inside the Muddle. Nevertheless, he understood better than anyone else that the enthusiasm to promote industrial development, to make up for the effects of past neglect and discrimination, and to change the rules of the economic game in the State could go too far. Going along a new policy track usually involved some excesses of enthusiasm and overcorrection. But the balance needed to be constantly maintained, which required monitoring and critical scrutiny of the experiment from a baseline of clearly defined Left principles and objectives.

And what about the recent time of troubles for the Left Front? Jyoti Basu’s habit of taking the long view and his resilience and essential optimism were reflected in his observation that the recent electoral setbacks suffered by the Left in West Bengal were because “we could not take our message properly to the people.” He had no problem in admitting, “Besides, in certain areas we made mistakes.” Most significantly, he observed in his interview to the CPI(M)’s daily newspaper, Ganashakti, a month after the results of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls were announced: “It is the people who determine the course of history. There can be some who misunderstand us temporarily, but if we keep going to the people repeatedly and make ourselves worthy of their love, they will most certainly understand us. We will have to again draw to our side those who opposed us in the last panchayat and Lok Sabha elections.”

Everyone, including Western journalists, understood that Jyoti Basu was an unusual kind of political leader and man, reputed for his integrity and straightforwardness, his discipline and work ethic, and his decisiveness in governance. A master of civilised – if, at the core, uncompromising – discourse, he was respected and listened to across the political and ideological spectrum on key policy matters, national and international.

CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat was certainly not being hyperbolic when, in his tribute, he singled out the last of the second-generation giants for teaching Communists “how to work and serve the people in parliamentary forums in order to bring about changes in public policy” and declared “there will be none like Jyoti Basu again.” It is indeed the end of a heroic era.

How I Found Comrade Jyoti Basu

By N Sankariah

IN the year 1963, when 32 members of the National Council of the Communist Party of India walked out of its meeting held in Delhi, Comrade Jyoti Basu was very prominent in leading this walkout. The same day there was a meeting of these 32 comrades held at 4, Ashoka Road, New Delhi, then the residence of Comrade A K Gopalan. At this meeting, views were exchanged on the future course of action needed to carry on the objectives of the walkout from the CPI’s National Council meeting.

Comrade Basu played an important role in this meeting which decided to call a convention of the party at Tenali in Andhra Pradesh to further plan out the steps necessary for the future of the party. The Tenali convention held between July 7 and 11, 1964 gave the call for convening the seventh congress of the party in Kolkata.

On the eve of the seventh party congress, when many leaders of the party in Bengal were arrested, Comrade Basu stood in the forefront in mobilising the people for the party congress in Kolkata, which took place from October 31 to November 7, 1964, and made it a great success.

Comrade Basu attended the third party congress and ninth party congress held in Madurai and the fourteenth party congress held in Chennai. He addressed many huge public meetings in several parts of Tamilnadu during his long association with our movement in the state. I accompanied him many times and translated his speeches from English to Tamil. His speeches were in simple language, direct and persuasive, and convincing for the audiences.

I must refer to his visit in June 1969 in particular, to commemorate the Kilavenmani incident in Thanjavur district, where 44 dalit agricultural labourers and poor peasants were burnt to death by landlords in 1968. Lakhs of toiling people attended this rally. Along with other leaders of our party in Tamilnadu, I was present on this occasion. This visit of Comrade Basu gave a great fillip to and strengthened the agrarian movement in Thanjavur district and Tamilnadu.

He inaugurated the Tamilnadu state committee building of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in T Nagar, Chennai, on March 30, 1991.

I was in the presidium of the party congresses along with him during the fourteenth party congress at Chennai and seventeenth party congress at Hyderabad. I greatly admired the outspoken and fair manner in which he conducted the proceedings and gave ample scope for various viewpoints to be advocated during the discussion.

He was the permanent chairperson during the meetings of the Central Committee. During the discussion in 1996 on the question of participation in the central government, he conducted the proceedings in the best democratic traditions of inner-party debate.

He was greatly interested in Tamilnadu as a non-Congress government was in power here, and he had had good relations with leaders of both the Dravidian parties, so that he could work out a joint approach on the question of state autonomy and more powers to the states.

He was very popular with various sections of people in Tamilnadu and helped the image of the party to grow here.

Jyoti Basu Shall Live Amidst Peasants &Toiling Masses

By K Varadharajan

COMRADE Jyoti Basu’s death was followed by an unprecedented show of love and respect from the masses cutting across political lines and they thronged the streets of Kolkata and across Bengal grieving his death. What was it that led to such a profound sense of loss for millions of people in Bengal and elsewhere?
Most political commentators talk about how he was the longest serving chief minister who held the post for 23 long years and thereby created a record of sorts in political history. What however is less spoken about is as to what was the basis on which the Left Front kept getting re-elected despite the most hostile opposition from political opponents, the corporate media and all kinds of reactionary elements. To put it simply this was possible because the government did not run from the Writers Building alone, but also from the villages of Bengal. While Mahatma Gandhi spoke about India living in villages and the run-of-the-mill Congress leaders and others kept repeating it, Jyoti Basu actually understood the pulse of the villages; he shared the sorrows of the peasantry, rejoiced in their joys, stood by their side and fought for their rights. This is what the Communist Party stood for and he never lost sight of that even when he kept getting re-elected as the chief minister for more than two decades.
Comrade Jyoti Basu’s commitment to the toiling masses and the peasantry was unquestionable. His association with the peasantry started with the Tebhaga movement. Kisan Sabha mobilised the peasantry around the demand of 2/3rd of the produce for the sharecroppers. The Tebhaga movement was met with brutal repression. He vociferously raised the demands of the Tebhaga movement consistently in the assembly and protested against police atrocities. The Communist Party entrusted him with the task of visiting different districts and preparing a report on the police atrocities against the peasantry. It was years later that the Left Front government with him as the chief minister guaranteed the rights of the sharecroppers and also put an end to evictions from land. The Left Front government also put an end to the use of police to suppress mass movements by workers and the peasantry. After independence when the assembly session took place for the first time on 21 November 1947, peasants who had come to Kolkata from their villages to greet their leaders were lathicharged. Comrade Basu raised the matter in the assembly and walked out when the chief minister’s response was found to be unsatisfactory. He then addressed the peasants outside the assembly and again tried to move a resolution condemning police brutalities on the peasantry. This zeal to take up the cause of the peasantry was witnessed throughout his life and he also made it a point to attend Kisan Sabha conferences where he placed his views candidly even when he was the chief minister.

In the midst of the food crisis, he made a scathing attack on the policies of the Congress government in the Bengal assembly which is a landmark in the history of the Food Movement. When the Communist Party wholeheartedly participated in the collection of food grains under the leadership of the Peoples’ Committee, Comrade Jyoti Basu was in the forefront of that initiative. He was also actively involved in providing leadership to the mass upsurge that engulfed Bengal from 1953 to 1959, be it against the hike in tram rates, the food movement or the different mass strikes of the workers. In 1967, Comrade Basu became the deputy chief minister in the United Front ministry and again in the second UF ministry in 1969. The role of these two governments and his leadership in providing a stimulus for the unleashing of mass movement and intense class struggles is memorable. He addressed the All India Conference of the Kisan Sabha at Borsul in Bardaman district in 1969 and gave direction to the Kisan Sabha by his call for being with the peasantry and mobilising them around the demand for Land Reforms. When the Left Front government took over in 1977, it translated the demand for land which was the slogan of Kisan Sabha into a reality with the implementation of far-reaching land reforms. The Left Front government followed up land reforms with the panchayati raj reforms. This strategy of the Left Front government termed as “walking on two legs” has transformed the lives of millions. The unleashing of productive forces through the land reforms gave a new lease of life to agriculture in the state while panchayati raj led to real political empowerment of the rural poor.

Land Reforms were taken forward under the leadership of the CPI(M) and West Bengal has seen the most equitable distribution of land in the entire country. Although West Bengal accounts for only around 3 per cent of agricultural land in India, it accounted for over 21 per cent of ceiling surplus land that has been redistributed in India. Operation Barga ensured the security of tenancy rights to the sharecroppers and this was also a move without precedence in India. Over 11 lakh acres of land was permanently brought under the control of sharecroppers and their right to cultivate land was firmly established. West Bengal has accounted more than half (54.5 per cent) of the total number of gainers from land distribution programmes in the entire country and the total number of beneficiaries was 29,71,857. The total number of gainers from all the various land reform programmes, including recorded sharecroppers (15,10,657) and recipients of homestead land (15,57,151), comes to 50,39,665 beneficiaries. This means more than half of the rural households have benefited from Land Reforms in the state since 1977 and West Bengal accounts for almost 50 per cent of all beneficiaries of land redistribution in post-independence India.

In West Bengal, 84 per cent of land is owned by small (2.5 acres to 5 acres) and marginal farmers (less than 2.5 acres) today, while the all-India figure is only 43 per cent. When contrasted with this, large holdings (more than 25 acres) accounted for merely 0.003 per cent of holdings and operated only 0.05 per cent of the total cultivable land. Around 56 per cent of the total beneficiaries of land redistribution in West Bengal were dalits and adivasis. They also comprised over 41 per cent of the registered sharecroppers. Till date, over 5.35 lakh women have been given joint pattas and 1.57 lakh women given individual pattas (ownership rights over land). Proportion of land owned by Muslims in West Bengal is the highest among all the Indian states. It is this fact that drew the attention of B P Mandal and West Bengal land reforms’ record as well as its emancipatory role in overcoming caste oppression has been documented by the Mandal Commission. Even when under neo-liberal economic Policies there has been an increase in landlessness in most states, in West Bengal an additional 95,000 acres of land was acquired in the 1990s under the land reform legislation and 94,000 acres redistributed. These figures for the decade of the 1990s account for almost all the land acquired and over 40 per cent of the land redistributed in the entire country.
The democratisation of the countryside through the panchayats threw up a new stratum of leaders from hitherto oppressed backgrounds and the political domination of the erstwhile village elite, including landlords and moneylenders was decisively broken. Panchayats also played a major role in the effective implementation of land reforms. They exposed benami land holdings, identified surplus land and also ensured that the legal rights of recipients of vested land and sharecroppers over land were not compromised. The panchayats were involved in the disbursal of institutional credit for the beneficiaries of land reforms and also for the sharecroppers. The rural poor and socially deprived groups like dalits and adivasis, as well as women soon played a dominating role in the elected bodies. In most Indian villages a major share of land is monopolised by a few families and whoever gets elected invariably came from the landed class and in many cases these sections also divided themselves among different parties and retained power within their families. In West Bengal, the panchayat elections were not mere tokenism and it has brought the villages under the control of the poor and oppressed irrespective of which Party emerged victorious. The proportions of dalit and adivasi panchayat representatives in all the three tiers were over 37 per cent and 7 per cent respectively, well over their share in population. It is noteworthy that over 35 per cent of the gram panchayat members are women.

The achievements of West Bengal in agriculture on the basis of these reforms demolish the argument of agricultural experts and economists that the small landholdings are detrimental to enhancing productivity. Under Left Front, food grains production has grown at the rate of 6 per cent per annum, which is the highest among seventeen most populous states of India. It has transformed from a food deficit state witnessing famines and food riots to a leading food producer in the country. It is the topmost producer of rice, vegetables and fish in India. There has also been significant expansion of irrigated land area through small and minor irrigation projects.

The face of villages in West Bengal is far different from the villages of most other states because of the strategy of “walking on two legs” and the political commitment of the Left Front government under the leadership of Comrade Jyoti Basu to pursue it genuinely. There is a general refrain that we hear in the villages of states like Tamilnadu where I come from: “Whether Rama rules or Ravana, Moghuls rule or the British, the Landlord remains our ruler”. This is a reference to the unchanging nature of the hierarchical relations in the rural countryside irrespective of who rules at the centre and also an indicator as to how the monopoly over land determines power equations in the countryside. This is the reality in our villages and in most parts of India it remains so even after 60 years of Independence. The Left governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura are the exceptions to this rule and their record on land reforms as well as political empowerment through panchayati raj is impeccable.

It is as the helmsman of a collective that brought about these radical transformations that Comrade Jyoti Basu is loved and respected and he shall forever continue to live amidst the peasants and the toiling masses for that. His mark on the minds of people remains indelible. I remember him for his unstinted commitment to the liberation of the oppressed and his consistency in pursuing that commitment to its logical culmination.

A Unique and Beloved Leader

By Brinda Karat

THE colossus of the Indian communist movement, the last of the navratnas who comprised the first Polit Bureau of the CPI(M), our beloved leader Comrade Jyoti Basu is no more. He bore his deteriorating health problems with a sense of dignity and will power through the suffering. Even when he was ill and unable to come to meetings, his wise counsel and guidance were always there for the party, for his comrades. But the inevitable came to pass. In his death the country has lost one of its greatest sons, a man who was born into privilege, who turned his back on it, to fight the fight of the dispossessed.


Many movements led by communists in different periods of history suffered because of the gulf between theory, principle, programme and practical work. Unlike some other countries, in India the course of the freedom movement left the ruling classes with no alternative but to adopt a parliamentary system of democracy based on a multi-party system. Thus, one of the crucial questions before the communist movement was the role of parliamentary democracy in the strategy for the Indian revolution. This did not remain just a theoretical or academic question precisely because the growth of the communist movement got reflected in the increasing strength in legislatures in the three states of Kerala, Bengal and Tripura, enabling the formation of governments led by the party, though at differing times. This provided a unique opportunity for the party to show to the masses and help them learn by their experience the possibilities and the limitations of bourgeois democracy. The first communist led government under the leadership of Comrade E M S Namboodiripad showed the way, setting out an important framework.

In Bengal, a decade later, there was a parallel yet entirely different model based on the concrete realities of Bengal. The combination provided by the unique parliamentary skills and experience of workers movements provided by the leadership of Comrade Jyoti Basu on the one hand and the strong organisation and struggles built up under that of Comrade Promod Dasgupta and other leaders on the other, developed the communist intervention in Bengal to a plane unmatched in the country. How to combine parliamentary work with extra-parliamentary activity? What are the possibilities to run a government with an alternative vision within the framework of a bourgeois-landlord state? What is the relationship between such a government and the class struggles of the masses? These and so many other, related questions crucial to the implementation of the programmatic understanding of the party for the Indian revolution found some answers through the positive and negative experiences in the fields, factories and the legislature in Bengal. At the core of this historic period, which has so many lessons for us today, was the leadership of Comrade Jyoti Basu. Particularly at a time when there were no precedents or examples to follow, when new problems demanded new solutions, the party was indeed fortunate to have had as its helmsman in government Comrade Jyoti Basu. The profound impact of the government he led through the initiatives taken in crucial areas gave the party a prestige and profile which also enabled a larger role for the party in national politics. Under his leadership, the Left Front government in Bengal became the embodiment of the alternative policies being promoted by the party at the national level.


His was a unique role and he set many precedents. Seventy years in public life in the service of the people. The longest serving elected head of a government in the whole world. A communist who started his public activity as a trade union leader and who continued to remain associated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) even as the chief minister, thus sending out a strong message of the difference between a communist chief minister and others. Serving in the Bengal assembly for five decades, interrupted only because of the rigged elections in 1972 and the Emergency. A parliamentarian who used his brilliant skills to raise the voice of the people and later as head of government, to forge alternative policies. A statesman who set an example in united front politics heading the longest most cohesive coalition in the country. A leader who faced several death threats but who never flinched when the bullets flew at him showing exemplary personal courage. A champion of secular values throughout his life starting with his Herculean efforts to douse the communal flames set alight in Calcutta in 1946 who decades later as chief minister helped to make Bengal a safe haven for minority communities and a symbol of communal harmony. A popular leader who insisted on stepping down from the chief minister’s post in spite of the unanimous appeal of his comrades not do so, because he believed that his health did not permit him to work as he would like to. His acceptance of the decision of the Central Committee in 1996 to decline the offer of the prime minister’s post. On his return to Kolkata, when he was asked repeatedly about his personal reaction, he only replied, “I am a disciplined soldier of the party.” With that one sentence, he set a historical example of communist discipline. That too was unique. He deeply respected and set the highest example of maintaining communist norms.

Each and every one of the precedents he set add to the multidimensional nature of the legacy he has left.

He had the most emancipated social outlook, the very epitome of a progressive understanding of social issues, particularly on women. He strongly disapproved of the conservative and male chauvinist attitudes prevalent in society and in politics. His strong reactions to violence against women, his encouragement to building up women’s movements in resistance were a great encouragement to women’s movements and particularly all women comrades in the party. They looked to Jyoti Basu for support and he gave it unstintingly. At the eighth national conference of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) held in Kolkata in 2007, he made a most memorable speech. Speaking about the important role that women in panchayats were playing in West Bengal, he candidly said, “When Indian women have been given the opportunity they have done well. We are proud of the role of our women in panchayats. I have no hesitation to admit that we had doubts initially whether competent candidates could be found or not. But thanks to organised women’s movement they came out boldly and we find in many of the villages where we have women panchayat members those villages have performed well in all development projects and have also won many awards even at the national level.” Under his leadership, the West Bengal assembly adopted in 1998 a unanimous resolution in support of the women’s reservation bill, becoming the first to do so. Within the party he always urged his comrades to bring more women into the party and to give them more responsibilities.


The higher his stature grew, impacting on national politics as the longest serving chief minister in the country and the one with the most impeccable record of integrity, the sharper his unerring instinct and understanding of the grass roots and the pulse of the people. In contrast to the perceived image of his “being aloof,” he was closest to the thoughts of the people. A true communist, he cared deeply for the interests of the people and was loved by them in return. He never cared for the trappings of power and that is why people identified with him. They believed that wherever he was he would be doing the right thing for them. In Bengal and all over the country, there must be numerous workers and the poor in the villages who grieve today the passing of a man who lived his life to create a world more just for them. For them Jyoti Basu was always “our man;” they knew that wherever he was their interests were uppermost in his mind. In many working class areas in the Hindi speaking region, the party used to be known as “Jyoti Basu’s party.”

They trusted him because Jyoti Basu always spoke the truth to the people. He never exaggerated what he could do for them, he always pointed out the pitfalls. At a time when melodrama and hyperbolic promises mark the political scenario, most striking was Jyoti Basu’s quality of being absolutely straightforward in what he said to the people in the hundreds and thousands of meetings he addressed in his life.

The greatness of Jyoti Basu also lay in his absolute lack of rancour against individuals who may have differed with him politically. He spoke his mind and expected others to do so too. He was extremely democratic and though his towering personality could have silenced any differences if he had wanted to, he never imposed his will but always went by the collective. In his autobiography, he writes how after 1946 when he was elected to the legislature he used to go every evening to the party office to inform and discuss with the party leadership the day’s proceedings and developments. This practice continued throughout his life. He set an example by coming every day to the party office before going on to fulfil his heavy responsibilities as chief minister.

In his reach to the world, Jyoti Basu went far beyond the party he built and loved. He not only touched the lives of millions but, by his pioneering leadership, he changed their lives, giving the poor confidence and dignity. He has left us grieving and bereft.


Shadowing the veteran communist for 33 years till his last on January 17, 2010, Jyoti Basu’s confidential assistant Joykrishna Ghosh has been witness to some rare occasions that gives a measure of the man. Ghosh tells them to TIMES OF INDIA .

Like many of our generation I got attracted to Left politics in my student days. Leaders like Jyoti Basu and Harekrishna Konar were then the main crowd pullers. Konar was an agitator. He used to rouse emotions. Basu, on the other hand, was a good communicator and sounded like a man speaking to men. I listened to them from a distance.

The first occasion when I got see Basu closely was just a chance. My elder brother Harekrishna Ghosh called me one day, while I was studying law, and asked me to look after the CPM leaders who had come for a secret politburo meeting in 1973. Those were the days of semi-fascist terror. The party decided to hold the meeting at a house in Salt Lake (BD-249), because it was a less populated place then. The members including Basu stayed there for four days while I looked after their food and accommodation. Everything went fine except the mosquito bites that became unbearable during the night. I had not arranged for the mosquito nets. Leaders started grumbling as they could not sleep in the night. I saw Basu lying on the bed with his eyes shut but hands moving to minimise the bites. Pramode Dasgupta lost his cool the next day. He shouted at me and asked to get in touch with my brother. I was unnerved. Basu came to my rescue. "He has done his best. Poor fellow, he forgot to bring the mosquito nets," Basu said. I felt assured and arranged for the mosquito nets in the evening.

After the meeting was over, I returned to my daily routine and never came so close to Basu till I got a call from his political secretary Sankar Gupta days after the Left Front government came to power in 1977. I was a little apprehensive. So when Sankar Gupta led me to the chief minister’s chamber, Basu could read my mind. "Sit here. Are you okay?" Basu said, pointing to the chair opposite to him. "This is a difficult assignment. People come to Writer’s with lots of problems. Try your best to solve them. If you can’t, tell them why you couldn’t. Some will try to lure you, mislead you. Take care that you do not lose your cool. You are the face of the government to them. Whenever in difficulty, feel free to come straight to me," Basu said. I felt assured with his last sentence which I believe kept me working with him for all these years.

Two things that was a lesson for me was his respect for people and punctuality. Soon after I became his CA, I went him to a party meeting in Malda. We boarded the New Jalpaiguri Passenger. All through the journey he reminisced his days in Railway Workmen’s Union in the late forties. "There was no bridge that you see now. I used to board a steamer to cross the river. Our trade union was not recognised then. The coolies used to pushed me inside the third class compartment through the window, and I used to sleep in the berth putting my suitcase under my head. One day the suitcase was stolen. Later, when the union got recognition, I used to get the railway pass," he said. We reached Malda at 5.30 in the morning and went straight to the Circuit House. Basu asked me to arrange for the breakfast for he had some assignments. When I entered the dining room, I saw a single chair with a plate on the table with food all around. Basu entered a little later. "What’s this? Get another chair, and a plate for him. He will have breakfast with me," the CM said to the caretaker who was a little surprised. I pulled a chair and sat opposite to him while he went to the washroom. The caretaker got angry and asked me to get up from the chair. I followed him. Seeing me standing Basu understood. "Strange! Why are you asking him to get up. I asked him to sit with me. Get him some mishti and fruits." The caretaker felt awkward. He had never seen such a CM before. Later, the CM inquired about the security and ensured that they shared the CM’s food.

On another occasion we went to Burdwan. He was tired. "When are we going to the meeting, Joy?" he said. I told him we should start at 4 p.m. He asked me to pull the curtains and went to sleep. At 3.30, I found him sleeping. I went to my room and slept. At four, the orderly called me saying that the CM was sitting in his car. I did not know what to do. I hurriedly dressed up and didn’t have the time to tie my shoe. I reached minutes later and expected a snub. I apologised to him. Basu just smiled.

We were going to Delhi for the CPM politburo meeting. Basu, then the CM, sought an appointment with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He was in a hurry. The PMO asked us to come along. Basu left while I and the resident commissioner followed him in another car. When we reached I saw our CM sitting in the visitor’s chamber along with chief ministers of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh who have been waiting for the meeting for hours. A person came out and escorted Basu to Gandhi’s anti-chamber, keeping others waiting.

Basu also respected the Opposition. I recall one occasion when Basu was leaving for London. He was busy clearing files with his officers all in front when Congress leader Satya Bapuli sought his appointment saying that members of the Krishak Sabha were forcibly reaping his crops. Basu asked me to get in touch with the superintendent of police and told Benoy Chowdhury to look into the matter.

But he was not a robot. He found time to spend with his family and meet his friends Snehanshu Acharya and Buchu Mitra, who used to stay in Kurseong. Mitra studied with him at St Xavier’s. On his way to Darjeeling later, he left his convoy and met his friend Buchu and also had lunch with them — luchi and mangso.

Like all politicians, Basu also had his crest and trough in his political life. When he came back from Delhi in 1996 (after the historic blunder) Basu maintained a stony silence. Days later he said: "They offered me the PM’s chair not only because I am a CPM leader, but I have the experience of running a coalition for all these years. Given an opportunity, I could have placed a unique Budget to show what communists look at it. But then, they (those who opposed his views) also have some valid apprehensions. I can’t just rule them out." Party was his leading light and he swore by it despite differences. And in 2000 he relquished the CM’s post on his own, and set a rare precedent in the country.

I saw him upset when people started pointing fingers at him over his staying at Indira Bhavan. "I can leave this place, but I can’t function without a CA," he used to say. I assured him that I am not leaving you and offered to work with him till his last at a token one rupee honorarium from the government. State finance minister Asim Dasgupta approved it.

His eyes and ears were failing during his last days. When I sat beside him he said: "How long will you sit beside me? I can’t talk to you for long." Party leader Biman Bose used to frequent him and update him on party affairs. At times he was complaining. "You have asked them not to allow me outside. They are not listening to me," he used to say. He kept track of the daily developments though. The bloodshed in the districts and continuous killings of his comrades used to pain him the most.