Governor's intervention sought on Jyoti Basu Nagar issue

IANS, Last Updated: Saturday, December 21, 2013, 01:13  
Kolkata: Taking exception to West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee government's attempt to change the name of a township christened after former chief minister Jyoti Basu, left leaders and other eminent persons Friday urged sought the intervention of Governor MK Narayanan to redress their grievance.

"It goes without saying that the people as a whole, take exception to the attempt of changing the name of Jyoti Basu Nagar, by the West Bengal government," said a memorandum given to Narayanan by the Jyoti Basu Birth Centenary Celebration Committee.

The Trinamool Congress regime last month withdrew in the state assembly the New Town, Kolkata Development Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2011 passed by the erstwhile Left Front regime that had included a proposal to name the New Town area as JyotiBasuNagar.
Narayanan has already disapproved the dropping of the bill, while the Left has been demanding introduction of a new legislation restoring the name.

Hasim Abdul Halim, working president of the committee, claimed before journalists that the governor told the delegation that he has already communicated to the government that he was not in favor of changing the name.

"It is requested that being the constitutional head of the state, you would be kind enough to take up the issue appropriately and redress the natural grievance of the people that it generates," said the memorandum.

The delegation pointed out that the LF government had named New Town after Basu in recognition of his immense contribution in building the modern township.

HIDCO, a government agency which developed the township, took a resolution Aug 12, 2010 to name it after Basu, and referred the matter to the housing department which approved the proposal that was later okayed by the state cabinet.

The bill was then passed by the legislative assembly, but the governor referred it to the Trinamool government, which came to power in May 2011.

Basu holds the record for being the longest serving chief minister. The Marxist patriarch occupied the chair from 1977 to 2000, when he voluntarily stepped down due to old age. 

Rajiv Gandhi twice asked Jyoti Basu to become PM: Book

By Ajanta Chakraborty, TNN Nov 26, 2013, 03.48AM IST

KOLKATA: Rajiv Gandhi had wanted Jyoti Basu to become the Prime Minister and had pleaded with him twice during the politically tumultuous times of 1990 and 1991, former CBI director and Bengal DGP Arun Prosad Mukherjee has revealed in his autobiography.

The recently-released book — "Unknown Facets of Rajiv Gandhi, Jyoti Basu, Indrajit Gupta" — is based on Mukherjee's diary entries, maintained from the time he joined IPS in 1956, and his interactions with Rajiv, Basu and Gupta in various capacities as Darjeeling SP, Bengal DGP, state vigilance commissioner, CBI boss, special secretary in the home ministry, and finally, advisor to the home minister (Indrajit Gupta).

Mukherjee was special secretary, home ministry, in October 1990 when Rajiv informally asked him to arrange a meeting with Basu, says the book. The communist leader said it was not his call and only the party's central committee and Politburo could take such a decision. CPM vetoed it and Chandrashekhar — Rajiv's third choice — became PM with Congress support.

In 1991, when Chandrashekhar turned out to be a failure, Rajiv again approached Basu but he declined and referred the matter to his party leadership. Mukherjee writes that he took Rajiv's emissary for a meeting with senior CPM leaders at former MP Biplab Dasgupta's house. "But my worst conjecture proved right ... and thus ended the second opportunity of putting up the Left Front's best foot forward in the larger interest of Bengal."

Five years later, thanks to a hung Parliament, several local satraps, including Mulayam Singh Yadav, proposed Basu's name again for Prime Minister. And again the CPM central committee voted against it. In an interview at the end of 1996, Basu termed it a "historic blunder". "However, it is not generally known that such blunders had taken place twice in 1990-91... largely because of the unrealistic, short-sighted and 'blunder-proof' mindset of CPM leaders," writes the former DGP.

The CPM leadership has been taken aback by Mukherjee's revelation. Rajya Sabha MP Shyamal Chakraborty, who wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this year for a commemorative postage stamp on Basu's centenary, told TOI on Monday: "I had no idea about this, so I can't comment on something I don't know of."

Former Lok Sabha Speaker and expelled CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee didn't know of it either. "It (not allowing Basu to become PM) was the weirdest example of democratic centralism. I respectfully agree with Jyoti-babu's 'historic blunder' comment. I wish the blunder hadn't been committed and history would have been written differently. Look what's happened to the party now — it's become politically irrelevant."

Chatterjee agreed with Mukherjee's remark in his book that the country's "murky political and administrative ethos" then would have been transformed with Basu at the helm.

Speaking to TOI, the 82-year-old Mukherjee said: "All three (Gandhi, Basu and Gupta) were different personalities. Jyoti Basu was firm, Rajiv was extremely courteous while Indrajit Gupta was a straight-talker. But they trusted me and allowed me to speak my mind. They knew about my integrity."

About the "blunder" he said, "The CPM leadership refused to see reason and there was no way one could convince them." His writing is more explicit: "All the implications and finer points made out by me in favour of Jyoti Basu accepting Rajiv Gandhi's offer of prime ministership though presumably for a short period of 8-12 months went over the heads of Left Front leaders — thanks to their blinkered vision."

What happened

* 1990: Basu tops Rajiv list of 3 prospective PMs but CPM says no. Chandrashekar, the last name on Rajiv's list, after Devi Lal, becomes PM.

* 1991: Chandrashekar flops. Rajiv again requests Basu. Mukherjee says he will arrange a meet if Rajiv ensures Basu is PM for at least a year. Rajiv agrees. Basu says party must decide. CPM again says no.

* 1996: After the fall of 13-day-old Vajpayee govt, United Front asks Basu to be PM. Yet again, CPM says no.

Protest in Bengal assembly over change in question

Kolkata: Nov 27 (IANS) - Protests marked the West Bengal assembly after Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra's question on naming a township Jyoti Basu Nagar was "arbitrarily changed".

The trouble started after the day's proceedings began with the question hour. Mishra complained to speaker Biman Banerjee the format of the query which he had submitted earlier had been "arbitrarily changed". The speaker allowed Mishra to read the question in the format he had submitted, and Minister for Urban Development Firhad Hakim replied, but the opposition was far from satisfied. Left Front members held noisy protests.

Mishra accused Hakim of misleading the house on the status of the New Town Kolkata Development Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2011, passed during the erstwhile Left Front regime rechristening New Town Kolkata as Jyoti Basu Nagar. Mishra claimed Hakim had spoken a lie by saying Governor M.K. Narayanan returned the bill without giving his assent.

On the contrary, Narayanan told Left Front MLAs Tuesday he was unaware of it. The Left Front members tore papers, displayed posters against the government move to withdraw a legislation naming New Town Kolkata as Jyoti Basu Nagar, and walked into the well of the house, raising slogans. The speaker continued the business of the house, but nothing could be heard in the pandemonium, as Left Front lawmakers refused to heed Banerjee's repeated requests to return to their seats.

The Front lawmakers boycotted the house proceedings after recess, and staged a mock assembly and sit-in demonstration in the assembly premises. The treasury benches passed a resolution in the second half of the day condemning the behaviour of Mishra and other Front members. "The house strongly condemns the uncivil behaviour, distasteful comments, and the efforts of the Left Front members to prevent the speaker and the house proceedings from functioning," it said.

Later, Mishra told reporters it was a rare instance of a question put forth by a member being "distorted". "The state government is encouraging manipulation of questions (unfair means in examination) in schools and colleges and now it has brought it to the assembly," he said. Mishra said the withdrawal of the New Town Kolkata Development Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2011, and its replacement by a fresh legislation that had no clause naming the township as "Jyoti Basu Nagar" was the state government's gift on the birth centenary of the late communist patriarch - who was state chief minister for 23 years - a national record.

Countering Mishra, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee accused the opposition, "particularly CPI-M", of creating disorder in the assembly. Chatterjee contended it was the right of the assembly secretariat to edit questions if they were too long. "This used to happen during my days as the leader of the opposition also.

The speaker, sticking to highest norms of parliamentary behaviour, allowed Mishra to speak, but he responded by tearing apart the question". "Everything was done in a planned and motivated manner, led by Mishra. This cannot continue. We want good debates in the assembly where everybody should participate," he said. 


Jyoti Basu (1914–2010)

By Utsa Patnaik 

JYOTI Basu’s life and political work spanned an astonishingly long era. His very early childhood was spent in Calcutta during the First World War, and by the time he was a college student, first at St Xavier’s and later Presidency College, both India and the world were in the throes of the Great Depression. Jyoti Basu belonged to a well-to-do professional family and went to England, as did many others of his background at the time, to study to be a barrister. He spent four years, from 1935 to 1939, in a depression-ravaged England with fascism rising in Europe, and underwent a decisive intellectual transition, becoming a strong and lifelong adherent of Marxism with the resolve to enter the arena of political struggle. When he returned and joined the illegal Communist Party of India in 1940, war had already broken out in Europe and was to engulf the Asian theatre less than two years later. This was followed by the great Bengal Famine, the tumultuous years of Partition, communal riots and Independence.


The meteoric rise of the Left in Bengal and its consolidation, the repeated evidence of trust and confidence the masses of Bengal have reposed in the Left for over three decades, and Jyoti Basu’s role in it cannot be understood without some understanding of the situation of Bengal after Independence, in the 1950s and 1960s. It inherited a legacy of two centuries of colonial rule, an acute food problem, problems of refugee influx and resettlement, and above all, an unresolved agrarian question. It was the cadres of the Left movement which tackled these early problems decisively, working tirelessly among the masses, and later, with the formation of Left Front governments, tackled the agrarian question and improvement of mass welfare.

Today very few people have any knowledge of the extreme poverty and destitution to which the ordinary people in Bengal had been reduced by the time Independence came, least of all Bengal’s own bhadralok intellectuals whose unremitting ‘western gaze’ has meant their being hegemonised by false theories emanating from Northern universities. In fact many of these intellectuals are making comfortable positions for themselves in foreign universities by denigrating our national freedom movement in some form or the other. The people belonging to that generation in Bengal which is now in its mid-forties or less in age, have known nothing but Left rule since they began to be aware of politics at all. Therefore few commentators today have any understanding of the situation before that rule or the significance of the progress the people have made, even though there has been some predictable reversal in the neo-liberal era in the trend of progress. A brief recapitulation of the results of Bengal’s long subjugation and the legacy it inherited may not be out of place.

Bengal was the very first region of India to be colonised from 1765 onwards (this date is when the Company acquired the sovereign right of collecting taxes and began to rule). Bengal was initially the richest province of British India and the value of land tax collected under the 1793 Permanent Settlement was actually more than the total land tax collected within Britain in that period. Bengal was the revenue base from where British conquest extended over the whole of India, with the annexation of Punjab coming almost a century later in 1848. Bengal experienced a paradoxical type of ‘development’: it was systematically ripped off by Britain, which took away every year vast volumes of products, crops and textiles from peasants and artisans, essentially as tax, without any real payment. This was because a part of the taxes collected from these very same peasants and artisans were used to ‘buy’ their products by the Company, so in effect they were handing over these goods free, as that part of tax. Such systematic denuding of the province every year over a long period continuously depressed the incomes and purchasing power of the masses, and one important index of impoverishment was the steadily declining nutritional level of the population. At the same time, the zamindari system and the new educational system created a class of urbanised rich rentiers and rising professionals who were, by upbringing and education, completely subservient to imperial interests. Calcutta grew ever larger as the port city through which unpaid exports were sent out of the country, and Lancashire textiles were imported to the detriment of Bengal’s spinners and weavers. All of this provided employment to traders, transporters and port coolies so that the proportion of workers in tertiary or service sector activities went up while the proportion working in manufacturing fell, and this remained true even with jute and cotton textile mills coming up.

The inter-war depression affected rural people badly as crop prices declined, and so did employment. Between 1911 and 1947, per capita food grains availability fell by 38 per cent in undivided Bengal, mainly because there was absolute decline in rice output as more land and resources went to the export crops the rulers wanted. In no other province was the situation so bad as to lead to an absolute fall in foodgrain output itself, although every other province saw a fall in per head grain output. Long-term impoverishment and lowered nutrition reduced the resistance of the population in Bengal and made it more vulnerable to the shock of the great famine.

The history of colonised Bengal had begun with a massive famine, the 1770 famine which killed an estimated one-third of the population; and it ended with another massive famine, the famine of 1943–44 which killed over 30 lakh persons and reduced five times that number to utter destitution. This was a famine created by the British government which placed the entire burden of financing Allied troops and air operations in the anti-Japan war, on India. But because Bengal was near the frontline, in practice the construction of barracks and airstrips, the maintenance and provisioning of the Allied troops and air force personnel, all took place in this eastern region, and it was the primary resources of this region which had to meet the vastly increased demand. Rs 3,800 crore was the extra expenditure burden put on the people during the war. The result was rapid food price inflation, a trebling of rice prices over only eighteen months, reducing the already undernourished rural poor to starvation. A war, whose cost a rich industrial Britain should have met, was imposed on the people of Bengal, and the price they were made to pay was over thirty-one lakh lives. But all this does not alter the bhadralok intellectuals’ reverence for all things western, and we do not find to this day a single realistic economic analysis of the Bengal famine which places the blame where it belongs, on the deliberate policy pursued by the imperialists to put the burden of war finance on defenceless peasants and artisans of India in general and on Bengal in particular. No people have perhaps suffered as much as the people of Bengal have done under colonial rule, and none has been more badly served by its west-oriented liberal intellectuals – a proposition which remains true to this day. Those who have served the people well have been the political activists of the Communist movement including pre-eminently Jyoti Basu, who de-classed themselves from bhadralok servility by their adherence to and practice of Marxism.

As early as 1940, the Floud Commission (Land Revenue Commission, Bengal), in its report, had drawn attention to the fact that actual tenant cultivators could not be called labourers since they provided the cattle, ploughs, all inputs and their labour, but had to hand over half their gross produce including by-products as rent to the superior right holder. Though an Act was on the anvil to increase the share of the bargadar, nothing was done by the government led by Suhrawardy, who admitted to Jyoti Basu (as he points out in his memoirs) opposition from landed interests as the reason. After the war ended, the peasantry was prepared to wait no longer. A major agrarian agitation erupted, the Tebhaga movement, which demanded increase of the adhiyar–bargadar’s share to two-thirds of the crop. This was led by the Krishak Front of the Communist Party and was particularly active in the districts of Mymensingh, Barisal, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Jessore, Khulna and 24-Parganas. It succeeded to some extent in raising the tenant’s share of the produce. The movement of 1945–47 ended with Partition and the expectation of new measures from the government of Independent India and Pakistan.


Quite apart from the actual loss of lives in the famine, by the time of Independence, Jyoti Basu’s Bengal was flooded with millions of peasants and artisans reduced to destitution, and millions of people poured in from the eastern part of Bengal after Partition. Nevertheless, the joy of political independence was irrepressible and the ultra-left slogan ‘Yeh azadi jhuti hai (‘This freedom is a lie’) found few takers. Reconstruction was a formidable task and without the work of the communists among the refugee population and the peasantry from whom they recruited new cadres, the successive Congress governments would have got nowhere. Although the West Bengal Estates Acquisition Act and the West Bengal Land Reforms Act had been passed by 1953 and 1955 respectively, implementation was slow and the festering unresolved agrarian problem meant that the vital agricultural sector remained in the doldrums. Shortages persisted, reaching crisis point in many years. The Food Movement of 1959 was a landmark agitation the Communist Party undertook. During the India–China conflict in 1962 large numbers of communists in India were jailed. Just as the imperialist war of 1914–18 in Europe had sorted out the communists from the social democrats, the China conflict was the catalyst which sorted out the left communists from the others and led to the split of the Communist Party of India (CPI), with Jyoti Basu being one of the founder-members of the new CPI-Marxist or CPI(M).

Soon afterwards the Party in Bengal had to contend with left adventurism and its violent cult of individual assassinations as the Naxalbari movement erupted. Large numbers of cadres lost their lives in this period with the ensuing repression. A split in a communist movement can be dangerous if either right revisionism on the one hand or left adventurism on the other, dominates and the militant middle, despite its correct line, cannot carry the majority of the members. While in Bengal the split and subsequent challenges were successfully handled, in Andhra Pradesh that had one of the strongest units of the CPI and with the proud legacy of the Telengana movement, decimation unfortunately resulted since large numbers of cadres went with either one or the other wrong trend. We see today again the rise of left adventurism and massacres of the innocent in the country, and while it faces inevitable defeat, before that occurs it will take a heavy toll in lives in the years to come.


While Jyoti Basu had served in the 1967–70 United Front government as well, the opportunity to make a real difference to the miserable situation of the people of Bengal came with the electoral victory of the Left Front and government formation by the coalition led by the CPI(M). The Left Front was repeatedly voted back to power by the people of Bengal in five successive elections after that, creating a world record of governance by communists within a federal parliamentary system, continuously for thirty-three years to date. What explains this unprecedented record which, it can be confidently stated, will never be broken in any other country? So anti-egalitarian is the economic and social structure in this country and so deeply rooted are the consequent structures of exploitation, that any sincere attempt to break this structure and to ameliorate the condition of the masses produces an overwhelming response from them. They gave their loyalty in abundance. The bhadralok in the cities and the rural elites continued in the main to pursue their conservative agenda, but the rural masses and the working classes were solidly behind the Left Front policies.

Bengal was the only state which had put a ceiling on land-holding from the very beginning in the legislation, abolishing zamindari in the West Bengal Estates Acquisition Act 1953, and nearly eight lakh acres of land was estimated to be surplus above ceiling. Between 1967 and 1970, with the first United Front government in which Jyoti Basu served, six lakh acres were distributed. Later amendments lowered the ceiling to 6.2 standard acres subject to a maximum of 17.3 standard acres for a nine-member family. After the Left Front assumed power, within a matter of three years between 1977 and 1980, nearly 10 lakh acres more ceiling surplus land was identified and three-quarters of this actually distributed within a few years. These implementation measures resulted in a larger area of ceiling-surplus land being distributed to the landless in West Bengal alone under Left Front rule by year 2000, than in several other states of India combined to date. The revival of local democratic institutions and regular holding of panchayat elections were an integral part of the success in identifying and distributing ceiling-surplus land.

But the abolition of zamindari estates did not mean a complete land reform or end of rentiers, for zamindars were only the very top of an entire pyramid of intermediaries who performed no labour but lived on the surplus produced by the actual tillers, the majority of whom had no legal existence since they were unrecorded sharecroppers. They still had to hand over half their gross output to the jotedar even when they provided the livestock assets, working capital and labour. In Bihar, an attempt to register the actual cultivators had to be called off owing to landlord resistance. In Bengal, it was the vision and determination of Jyoti Basu and Harekrishna Konar, supported by Benoy Chaudhuri, which accounted for Operation Barga being carried through. Democratic participation was the very essence of this vision. As Harekrishna Konar had put it: "The indispensable condition for success in implementation is that the agricultural labourers, poor peasants, bataidars, who are really interested in land reform, must be roused; their initiative and courage will have to be developed so that they can stand up before the mighty power of the landlords and they must be asked to come forward in an organised way to help the government to implement."

The innovative strategy of taking administration to the villages, of involving local peasant organisations, panchayats and potential beneficiaries themselves, while using to the full the hitherto unutilised provisions of the law, worked. Particularly noteworthy is the use of the Indian Evidence Act, which permits oral evidence to be collected and presented to counter the written documents marshalled by the powerful landlords to deny legal rights in the courts to the sharecroppers on oral leases. All measures of land reform taken together, including distribution of homestead land, are estimated to have benefited nearly three-fifths of rural households. Jyoti Basu was acutely conscious that whatever had been achieved was only implementation of the democratic tasks of the bourgeoisie, which the latter itself was no longer capable of implementing, and very far from any completely egalitarian radical land redistribution which is part of the socialist agenda. He repeatedly pointed out that Bengal had to function within a legal system which safeguarded private property and a federal structure which restricted the measures which could be taken, that it was ‘not the republic of West Bengal’. Nevertheless with all caveats, what had been achieved was of tremendous significance in unleashing the confidence of the masses, enabling them to pull themselves up by their own efforts out of the mire of acute poverty and degradation.

The 1980s was the golden decade for India and particularly for Bengal, while the impetus was maintained well into the 1990s. Revival and vigorous functioning of local self-government institutions, combined with the fresh impetus to productivity in rural areas, led to Bengal surging ahead with the highest annual rate of foodgrain growth in the whole of India at 4.2 percent, compared to 2.5 percent average in other major states, over the period 1980–81 to 1998–99. This was crucial because, as Adam Smith had pointed out two centuries earlier, foodgrain prices determine all other primary prices through feedgrain and wage goods prices, and strongly impact labour-intensive manufacturing as well. Cheap food benefits the wage-paid working class, while the rural producers do not face large dips in prices when they raise output growth as long as a procurement system is in place. The state’s policy was expansionary in the 1980s with development expenditures growing at over eight percent annually, the highest rate in India.

There was a substantial positive trend growth in employment and incomes in both rural and urban Bengal, and the consumption expenditure data show that a larger decline took place in poverty in Bengal than in any other state. Of course, given the fact that the initial level of destitution, for the reasons analysed earlier, was much higher in Bengal than in most other regions, even this large order of improvement did not mean that all the problems of Bengal’s poor were solved. Medical services’ expansion to the required extent was thwarted by urban doctors with a dog-in-the-manger attitude – refusing to serve in rural areas, they nevertheless agitated against a plan to have a special health worker cadre with a shorter training period to deliver basic health care. They acted as a selfish professional group bent on maintaining their monopoly of skills, and they continue to constitute a highly conservative body at the national level, determined to exclude deprived social groups from their ranks. Despite these problems, one must appreciate the remarkable improvement in many important aspects of welfare that Bengal achieved.

National Sample Survey (NSS) data show that while in 1977–78, when the Left Front first assumed government, as much as 40 percent of the rural population in West Bengal could not spend enough to access even 1,800 calories energy, a very low level, fifteen years later, by 1993–94, this proportion had dropped to 17 percent, the largest reduction in extreme poverty anywhere in India over any period. Thus nearly a quarter of the population, constituting the very poor, had moved up in nutritional status. The significance of this may be judged by a comparison – in rural Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamilnadu in 1993–94, as much as 36, 38 and 43 percent of the population respectively was unable to get even 1,800 calories per day. For a state which had come through a traumatic war-time famine and rural destitution, the large order of improvement in the situation of the poor in Bengal was a particularly important achievement. While in rural Bengal in 1977–78, as much as 67 percent of the population could not spend enough to obtain even 2,100 calories daily, fifteen years later this figure had dropped to 42 percent. Similarly there was a substantial decline in urban poverty as well, to 18 percent below an 1,800 calorie intake by 1993–94, much lower than in other urbanised states. After 1991 there was very sharp contraction in public spending by the central government and all states as neo-liberal policies were imposed on the people.West Bengal too was obliged to engage in public spending cuts as there was substantially reduced tax devolution from the central government and loans carried very high interest.

After the demolition of the Babri Masjid and rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) elsewhere, a young Bengali intellectual was heard by this author to remark rather complacently that Bengalis were not communally minded, unlike people in other states, and right-wing communal forces could make little headway. This understanding however underestimates the strength of communal–chauvinist forces in Bengal, forgets communal riots during Partition, and does not give due credit to the unremitting struggle of the Left parties against communalism and in promoting progressive thinking, which marginalised these forces but which have never been fully defeated. It should be remembered that it was a Bengali who had provided leadership of the Hindu Mahasabha and set up the Jan Sangh, which was to reinvent itself as the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 1970s. It was Bengal which had spawned chauvinist organisations of the extreme right such as Anand Marg and Amra Bangali. After the assumption of government by the Left Front, no quarter was given to communal forces; the parties representing these forces and their violent behaviour was described by Jyoti Basu as ‘uncivilised’, an adjective the use of which was very typical of the man and which incensed the BJP leaders. Jyoti Basu took decisive action to smash every attempt – and they did occur – by right-wing forces to promote communal disharmony in Bengal. For over three decades while other areas of the country saw instigation of violence and communal rioting, including the capital Delhi which went up in flames in 1984, in Bengal minority communities have felt safe because Bengal has been made to remain free of communal violence. And that has been a major achievement of Jyoti Basu and the movement he led.

Jyoti Basu wrote his own epitaph thus – ‘There is nothing more valuable in life than the love of the people. We are always ready to sacrifice our lives for a greater cause.’ A most remarkable life, spent in struggle and service of the exploited. A life to be emulated, but impossible to emulate. 

(This article was published in Social Scientist, Issue 446–447, Volume 38, Numbers 7–8, July–August 2010. Sub-Headings have been added – Ed)


Jyoti Basu: The pragmatic communist

By Somnath Chatterjee

Times of India, Jul 8, 2013, 03.42AM IST

Jyoti Basu was to me a rare communist and a bhadralok who upheld his party ideals on the same breath as the democratic spirit of the Constitution. He was my only leader, who could best articulate the voice of the struggling millions within the precincts of parliamentary democracy and outside. At the personal level, he was an affectionate guide who took great care in advising me whenever I was in need.

Somnath Chatterjee, speaker Biman Banerjee, Partha Chatterjee and others paying homage to the late Jyoti Basu on his 100th Birth Anniversary at West Bengal Assembly on Monday. 

His life is an illuminating saga of active participation in people's struggle. He spoke in the people's language, minus the political jargons, because he could feel what they felt and could express what they wanted to. Personally, I have been extremely fortunate to work under his guidance. Basu taught us, as he himself followed, that politics provides the best opportunities to serve the people as one's mission in life and should not be treated as a matter of part-time hobby or pastime.

He wanted everyone to remember that people occupied the most important and central position in a democratic set-up and he wanted us to judge our activities in terms of people's welfare and progress.

Basu had the capacity to assess the significance of developing situations political or otherwise and he could quickly react to them most aptly. His "one-liners", if I may so describe them, were not only brief but on most occasions found wholly appropriate.

Another quality he had, which is seldom found among politicians today, is that he was never dogmatic, though he had clarity over what he and his party wanted to achieve. But he never acted partisan in contentious matters. That explains how he could maintain excellent rapport even with the opposition and act as a binding force of the Left for all these years.

Though his objective was to usher in a classless society, he realized that till it was achieved, the party should fully participate in parliamentary democracy under the Constitution of India, which should be strengthened as well. He set an outstanding example of how to run a coalition government in harmony.

And for this quality, and his success as chief minister, Basu was entreated repeatedly in 1996 by the leaders of the United Front in Delhi to take charge as Prime Minister. What followed is known to all.

I still recall the day when I met an ailing Basu at his Kolkata residence on July 12, 2008, when I heard rumours doing the rounds that the CPM politburo wanted me to step down as Speaker of the Lok Sabha ahead of the confidence vote on the Indo-US nuclear deal in Parliament after the Left withdrew its support to the UPA. Basu was fully aware of the party's stand and I had no discussion with him on the matter. I also had no idea whether he agreed with the party's stand. But he advised me that I should preside over the proceedings of the House on the confidence motion. My resignation, he felt as I too believed, would suggest that I was compromising on my position as the Speaker and was allowing my actions to be dictated by a political party, which would go against the basic tenets of parliamentary democracy. He further advised me that I could take a decision after the trust vote because I had arranged the annual Hiren Mukkherjee Parliamentary Lecture on August 11 where Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen was to deliver his speech.

I can't but mention two of his great achievements, namely land reforms and devolution of power to the grassroots through panchayati raj and municipal bodies to which elections had not been held for many years.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi openly acknowledged the success of the panchayati system in West Bengal under Jyoti Basu's leadership. Basu also pioneered the movement for a balanced development. He brought to the fore the federal structure of our country, both in terms of political and financial powers an issue that was lapped up by other state governments. As a true democrat, he always spoke against the misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution that provides for dismissal of state government by imposition of the President's Rule.

His long unbeaten innings as chief minister has to its store many milestones in the field of agriculture and industry in Bengal. As a pragmatic leader, Basu realized that though he and his party and the Left Front were opposed to globalization and liberalization, he couldn't ignore the existing laws and opportunities to usher in speedy industrialization. With that objective, Basu formulated and announced the industrial policy of the Left Front government in September 1994. Haldia Petrochemicals and Bakreswar Power Station were two of the major projects which he successfully dealt with through protracted negotiations, and at a time, going into a confrontation with the Union government. Many other important units like Mitsubishi Project in Haldia and the thriving IT sector in Salt Lake Sector V are the fruits of his forward looking policy.

Even as Basu and his party were all for expanding the public sector, he realized that a state government could not bring about radical changes in the country's industrial policy. Basu thus opted for a judicious mix of the public sector, the private sector and the joint sector. It pained me when some of his critics tried to underplay the achievements of the Left Front government during Basu's tenure, saying that he could do little, especially during the latter part of his tenure. I had the opportunity of talking to him about the problems and also didn't hide my reservations on the workings of the government, for which he was not to blame. But I am not going into them.

Basu was not keeping well and didn't want to cling to the seat of power. When he realized that he was not being able to devote full time and attention to his duties, Basu requested his party more than once to relieve him as chief minister and also from the important positions he held in the party. However, that was not accepted then for good reasons. But when he felt that his health was deteriorating further, he put in his papers as chief minister after 23 years and left the Writers' Buildings without showing even a trace of emotion. But as a true communist, he continued with his political life, attending meetings both at party office and addressing public gatherings till his last.


CPI (M) Polit Bureau Calls for Observe Birth Centenary of Jyoti Basu

New Delhi, June 15: July 8, 2013 marks the beginning of the birth centenary of Comrade Jyoti Basu, an outstanding leader of the Communist Party and the Left movement in India. Jyoti Basu, in his nearly seven decades of work as a Communist, left an indelible imprint on the political map of the country.  He joined the Communist Party in 1940 and began his work in the railway trade union movement. In 1946, he was elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly from the Railway constituency.  Since then, in his long parliamentary career, he became the role model for all Communists and progressives on how to work in parliamentary institutions and serve the people.

Jyoti Basu played a key role in the development of the Communist Party in West Bengal and at the all-India level. He was the Secretary of the Provincial Committee of the CPI from 1954 to 1960. He became a member of the Central Committee of the CPI in 1951. When the CPI(M) was formed, he became one of the founder Polit Bureau and Central Committee members. 

Jyoti Basu became Chief Minister of the Left Front government of West Bengal in 1977 – a position he occupied continuously till 2000.  Before that, he was twice Deputy Chief Minister in the UF governments between 1967 and 1970.  Under his leadership, the government undertook the implementation of land reforms and the establishment of the panchayati raj system.

Under Jyoti Basu’s Chief Ministership, West Bengal became a bastion of communal harmony and secular values.  He played a leading role in advocating the restructuring of Centre-State relations and for establishing a federal system. 

Jyoti Basu was a leader who creatively applied Marxism to the concrete Indian conditions and made an immense contribution in charting out the course for the Party.

Jyoti Basu, in his lifetime, became a symbol for the Left, democratic and secular forces in the country.

The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) calls for a year-long celebration of the birth centenary of Jyoti Basu beginning from July 8, 2013.  The centenary will be observed by holding meetings, seminars and a special campaign to propagate the life and contributions of this invaluable leader.

From India News Network (INN)



CPI (M) asks PM for postage stamp on Jyoti Basu

Kolkata, June 12, (IANS):  The CPI(M) has appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to issue a set of postage stamps to mark the centenary of late West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu.
In a letter to Singh released to the media Wednesday, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Rajya Sabha member and central committee member Shyamal Chakraborty said Basu's centenary would be celebrated from July 8 this year to July 8 2014.
"I propose that your good office may kindly advice Department of Posts to publish a set of commemorative postage stamps in his name during his birth centenary," said Chakraborty.
An identical letter was sent to Communication and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal.
In his letter, Chakraborty refered to the role Basu played in India's political life after Independence.
"He (Basu) ran a government in a state for consecutive five terms. (He) had the widest experience of working with 10 out of 13 prime ministers of India. This may be reckoned as unprecedented record in the history of democracy."
Chakraborty also pointed out that during his stint as the country's finance minister between 1991 and 1996, Singh had worked with Basu.
Basu, born July 8, 1914, was at the helm of affairs in West Bengal for over 23 years from 1977, the longest chief ministerial tenure in India. He voluntarily stepped down in 2000 due to ill health.

Basu almost became India's prime minister in 1996 at the head of a centre-Left United Front government. But the CPI-M vetoed the proposal, and he later dubbed the party's decision a "historical blunder".


CPI (M) prepares for Jyoti Basu birth centenary celebrations

Press Trust of India| June 4, 2013 Last Updated at 21:40 IST

KOLKATA: The CPI (M) would start preparations for celebrating the birth centenary of late chief minister and party leader Jyoti Basu from July 8.

"From that day, the party will prepare for a year-long birth centenary celebration of Jyoti Basu with due honour," the CPI(M) state committee said after a meeting here today.

The state committee said the celebrations would include spread of Marxist ideology and for extending mass organizations.

The party has already decided to set up a ‘Jyoti Basu centre for social studies and research’ at Rajarhat New Town in memory of the Marxist leader who died on January 17, 2010.


Castro, Basu among those honoured by Bangladesh

DHAKA: 24th March- Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro; former British Prime Minister Lord Harold Wilson; and former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu were among the 69 ‘foreign friends’ honoured by Bangladesh on Sunday for their contribution to the country’s liberation war in 1971.
This is the sixth phase of the awards, given out to ‘foreign friends’, a process that began during the current government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Friends from Cuba, United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Japan, the United States, Australia and Sweden have been awarded in two categories — ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ and ‘Liberation War Honour’.
Fidel Castro and Harold Wilson have been awarded ‘Liberation War Honour’. Representatives of Mr. Castro and two-time British Prime Minister Mr. Wilson received the honours. Jyoti Basu has been awarded ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’.
The highest honour was awarded to former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in July 25 last year. Her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi accepted the honour on her behalf. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee was awarded ‘Liberation War Honour’ on March 5 this year.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina presented them with the citations and the awards in a ceremony at the capital’s Bangabandhu International Conference Centre on Sunday.
Ten prominent Pakistani nationals were honoured this time. They included: Begum Naseem Akhtar, Dr. Iqbal Ahmed, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, all politicians; Zafar Malik, a lawyer; Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a poet; and Begum Tahira Mazhar Ali, Human rights activist among others. Human rights activist Asma Jahangir, daughter of former politician and civil servant Malik Ghulam Jilani and journalist Hamid Mir, son of Waris Mir, another journalist, received the awards on behalf of their fathers.
Several prominent Indian military and civil personalities, including Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora; Lt Gen. Sagat Singh; Vice Admiral Swaraj Prakash; Major General Antony Harold Edward Michigan received ‘friends of liberation war awards’ this time.
So far, 206 individuals and organisations have been given the honour for their contributions to Bangladesh’s liberation war.
THE HINDU, Published: March 24, 2013 23:08 IST