We shall carry forward......

At last came that fateful moment. The Seventeen day fierce battle ended. Life conceded defeat. Death triumphed. Com. Jyoti Basu breathed his last at forty seven minutes past 11 AM on 17th of January 2010.

Death triumphed, but did it, really? In death itself, as in every moment of his life, Com. Jyoti Basu conquered death to finally join the immortals. He will continue to live in the warmth of billion hearts in his own country and beyond, as well as in the history of human endeavour for better life in a better world.

Lakhs and lakhs of people-how many lakhs? –nobody, not even the police could hazard an estimate who filled the streets, alleys, parks, every square inch of vacant space, turning the city into a vast sea of humanity, provided just a rough measure of the immeasurable, the greatness of the man whom they came to bid farewell. “Today’s moving and fitting tribute to Jyoti Basu… came not from the three-volley rifle salute nor the galaxy of leaders and VIPs…” writes a reporter in a prominent Calcutta daily “it came, instead, from lakhs and lakhs of ordinary people from the city and its suburbs, from distant villages and far flung districts…” She adds “An era had come to an end. They knew, and they had come to make their tryst with destiny”. Many had shared her views; the passing away of Com. Jyoti Basu marked the end of an era.

But life never stops, history goes on unfolding. It is only when an old era ends, a new era dawns. In bidding good bye to an era, consciously or unconsciously they welcome the dawn of a new era which is to succeed the old. This is all in human nature, the aspiration for the new and the better. A truly great leader is he who understands the latent aspiration in the minds of millions and billions, and prepares them to transcend the old for building the new. Few understood it better than Jyoti Basu, and it is because of this that inspite of his apparent aloofness he got identified with the masses who found personified in him their own aspiration.

It is the deep understanding of the aspiration that provided the dynamics of his extraordinarily long life of struggle. As a Marxist from the very early days of his public life he knew well that however important may be the role of a great man, it is the masses of the people themselves that are destined to bring in a new era, to create a new world. Leaders’ part is to show them the correct path and to be in the front line of action. Com. Jyoti Basu precisely played this role better than anybody else.

It is well known that Com. Jyoti Basu was sent to England by his family, at the age of twenty two, to become a barrister and a barrister he became, but he became much more. Apart from his activities among Indian students studying there, with his chosen friends he took lessons on Marxism from illustrious leaders of British Communist Party such as Hary Polit, Rajani Palme Dutta and the like. In the course of these lessons he not only learned that the working class at the head of all toiling and down trodden people was the class of the future; he also learnt that a theoretical understanding about the role of the working class and the downtrodden masses was not enough. The point is to change” the world and for that to understand the working class and the masses and complete spiritual identification with them was imperative. It is not so well known that even while in England he established relation with dock workers and seafarers. As everyone knows, as the most practical among practical men, even before leaving England he was determined to become a communist whole timer instead of being a barrister. Party immediately engaged him to work among port and dock workers. Soon he was assigned the job of organising the railway workers. It is his work among the railway workers that transformed the potential barrister Jyoti Kiran Basu into an undisputed leader of the masses, Comrade Jyoti Basu. In BA Railroad workers union he started work not as an absentee President, addressing mass meetings on special occasions, but as its General Secretary taking care of all its miscellaneous work. On one hand he along with other leaders confronted the railway authorities even at the lowest level if necessary, while on the other hand he conducted innumerable group meetings of workers.

The workers among whom he worked never tired in later days, of enthusiastically describing such meetings which were usually held not in union office but in the railway yards. Comrade Jyoti Basu conducted such meetings, sitting on rails in the yard. It is this work among railway workers in those days that taught him to understand the people, to recognize their aspiration and to identify with them. This identification helped him to acquire working class out look which has guided his political activity all his life. It is notable that the first time he got elected to the legislative assembly of (undivided) Bengal from a purely working class constituency, the railway constituency. As a member of legislative assembly, as a minister in the state government, and finally as the Chief Minister of West Bengal he was the greatest champion of the working class. Even as the Chief Minister he exhorted the working class time and again not to surrender their hard earned right to strike. It is squrely in the fitness of things that he was the vice president of CITU of which he was a founding father, till the end of his life. As a leader of the working class he did not fail to see the plight of the million upon million of the peasants and other down trodden people.

He knew only too well that the working class cannot emancipate itself without emancipating these vast masses of the poor people. Even before united front or left front government, came into being, the Party of which he was a leader, under the banner of the peasant organisation led daring struggle for the cause of the peasantry. It is due to the struggle of the peasantry and other sections of the exploited people that the Party came to constitute the major force in the United Front Government and later in the Left Front Government. Under the leadership of Jyoti Basu these governments with the limited power that the constitution allowed them to exercise, undertook land reform ensuring some land to the tillers, to the extent possible, as the primary task, and also brought to life the three-tier Panchayat system to give these vast masses due power and human dignity.

As the helmsman of the state on countless occasions he declared, \"we are responsible people, as a government we are cautious not to do any injustice to any section of the population, but there should not be any mistake, we are the government of the workers and the peasants, of all poor people. We are committed to stand for their cause.\" Not only the working class and the peasantry, both as a Party leader and the head of the government, undoubtedly from the stand point of the working class, he stood also for the cause of all sections of population, white collor employees, professionals, teachers, women, youth and students - every section of population considered him as their best friend, always extending his hand of support to every just cause of every section.

His unique personality which drew people across party line and ideologies not only during his last journey but even in his life time will undoubtedly be studied by scholars in the coming years. There is a multitude in our country who have genuine respect and even love for Com. Jyoti Basu but do not like his party, even hate it. There is nothing unnatural in it. However, as individuals often have extremely important role in history so also personal traits of character has its part to play. Yet profound understanding of Comrade Jyoti Basu will not be possible without what Comrade Jyoti Basu himself has repeatedly told about himself:

"And it would be wrong to conclude that I played the role in an individual capacity. What I was and what I am is because of the Party. The CPI(M) leadership had assigned a role to me which I carried out with help from innumerable comrades. It will be improper if I do not recollect the contributions and sacrifices of many comrades. To offer a perspective on the CPI(M), let me say that none of us can be viewed outside the context of the Party and its programme."

It was not a coincidance that while comrade Jyoti Basu had grown up as a leader in the working class movement and till the end of his life adorned the post of Vice-President of CITU, he was also a top leader of the CPI(M), a member of its Polit Bureau. We know though we often forget, the ultimate goal of the genuine working class movement is the the emancipation of the class from all exploitation which is possible only in a socialist society and such a society is achievable only through the instrumentality of the political party of the working class. What then is more natural for a far-seeing leader of working class movement, than to find a place in the Party of the working class to lead the class to its historical destination.

Comrade Jyoti Basu is no more. The void that his death has created will not be filled up by any individual in the foreseeable future. Prakash Karat has rightly said, there will not be another Jyoti Basu. People make history and history makes great men, great leaders. History does not make them in hundreds or even in dozens. When a great man leaves the world, people sometimes have to wait for a new era for history to create another great man. But before leaving, the truly great leave behind them enough material, their example, their teachings – for the people to enable them go ahead, create new history which in turn will gift us new great men as new great leaders of a new epoch.

Dear Comrade, we shall never forget what an immeasurably rich wealth of legacy you have left behind. We cannot also forget what a great responsibility you have left for us to shoulder. In bidding you good bye, dear Comrade, we pledge in all sincerity and seriousness, we shall carry forward the ideal for which you lived and died, whatever the cost.

Editorial, The Working Class, February, 2010 issue