Veteran Communist Leader
Pall of gloom
descends on political circles as Jyoti Basu passes away:
A pall of gloom has descend on political circles of the country with
the passing away of Communist patriarch and former West Bengal chief
minister Jyoti Basu
Jyoti Basu, one of India's tallest political leaders whose
influence extended far beyond his home state of West Bengal that he
ruled for a record 23 years, died here Sunday. He was 95. He would
have become India's prime minister in 1996 had not his
Marxist-Communist party ruled against his taking charge of a loose
Basu died after a 16-day battle in the
AMRI Hospital. He is survived by his businessman son Chandan. His
wife Kamal had predeceased him in 2003.
Basu, who had been ailing for months
but remained agile mentally as he kept
with national affairs, was admitted to the hospital Jan 1 following
chest congestion and infection. He was moved to the Intensive
(ICCU) Jan 2 and put on ventilator Jan 6 after the respiratory
problem became acute.
Although his six decades of political
life was confined to West Bengal, the pragmatic Marxist came to be
seen as an icon in both the Left movement and national politics, and
many a prime minister turned to him for advice - earning him a
stature no other Communist can ever hope to achieve.
Only on Saturday, during a visit to
Kolkata, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had described Basu as "a
great son of India".
"I have had a very long association
with Basu. On many occasions, I turned to him for his sagacious
advice on all matters, whether they related to West Bengal or to
issues of national importance," the prime minister said. "His advice
was statesman-like but always pragmatic and based on unshakable
values that he championed throughout his political career."
As President Pratibha Patil and
Manmohan Singh led the entire political spectrum in paying rich
tributes, thousands of people, many of them weeping, joined a
winding procession as the body was taken from the AMRI Hospital to a
funeral parlour about six kilometres away.
His death was announced at 11.47 a.m.
by a sobbing Biman Bose, a senior leader of the Communist Party of
India-Marxist (CPI-M), which Basu helped set up in 1964 following a
split in the Communist Party of India (CPI).
With Chandan by his side, Biman Bose,
his voice shaking, told reporters: "I have come to give you a sad
news. Jyoti Basu is now no more with us. He has left us. I can't say
anything more now..."
In no time, West Bengal was plunged
into mourning, and the red flag was flown at half mast in all the
hundreds of party
across the state. Senior CPI-M leaders, Basu's relatives and party
activists broke down and wept inconsolably as party cadres
periodically chanted the slogan: "Jyoti Basu, Lal Salaam, Lal Salaam
Arun Jaitley of the staunchly
anti-Communist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) described him as a "role
model for Indian politics". He said Basu was "a politician of high
credibility. He is one of the leaders from whom we all have learned
Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed told
IANS: "Without doubt he was one of the worthiest sons of India. He
lived his life with simplicity and stood for uprightness in public
"There will be none like Jyoti Basu
again," is how CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat saluted the man
he prevented from becoming the prime minister in 1996. "With his
passing away, an era has passed." Karat and his wife Brinda were at
Kolkata to receive his body and act as pall-bearers when it reached
his Salt Lake residence from the hospital.
The most charismatic product of
India's fractured Communist movement, Basu was West Bengal's chief
minister from June 1977 to November 2000, heading five successive
Left Front governments. Basu's death comes at a time when the
popularity of West Bengal's ruling Left Front has plummeted to its
lowest ebb, a development that worried the veteran Marxist till he
Basu reached the
of his political career in 1996 when a centre-Left United Front
alliance unanimously asked Basu to lead the nation as prime
minister. Basu was willing but the Stalinist CPI-M declined the
offer, arguing it would not lead a government whose policies it
He also played the kingmaker's role
adroitly. He helped in stitching together coalition governments led
by V.P. Singh in 1989, H.D. Deve Gowda in 1996 and Inder Kumar
Gujral in 1997.
In 2004, Basu and CPI-M stalwart
Harkishan Singh Surjeet impressed upon the Left parties to lend
support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
government of Manmohan Singh.
Born July 8, 1914 in Kolkata, Basu,
son of a doctor, had his schooling in Christian Missionary-run
Loreto and St. Xavier's. He graduated from the Presidency College
with English honours in 1935.
He became a barrister from
Lincoln Inn but decided to embrace Communism after coming into
contact with British Communist leaders such as Harry Pollitt and
Rajani Palme Dutt.
On returning to India, Basu became a
whole-timer of the then undivided CPI and worked among railway
workers. He won his maiden election to the Bengal assembly in 1946.
After independence, he was elected to the state assembly on 11
When the CPI split in 1964, Basu
became a key leader of the breakaway CPI-M.
In 1967 and 1969, Basu was deputy
chief minister of short-lived United Front governments in the
violence-torn state. He lost his only election to the assembly in
1972, but became the chief minister five years later.
Under Basu's leadership, the Left
Front government brought about agrarian reforms through Operation
Barga, devolution of power to local rural bodies or panchayats and
introduced various relief measures and experimented in agricultural
development through government support to the small holdings.
Indian industry also paid him tribute
- through he was widely blamed for the flight of industry from West
Bengal in the seventies that saw the birth of militant left-wing
trade unionism - with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) the
state of West Bengal "made significant progress towards inclusive
growth and development".
Basu also vigorously demanded more
powers for the states in the early 1980s. He played a key part in
bringing together the non-Congress state governments and parties,
laying the ground for future alliances at the national level.
Basu stepped down for health reasons
in November 2000, but as a CPI-M politburo member he continued to
play a big role in the party and national politics.
It was unclear till Sunday evening
whether he would be cremated or his body donated for medical
research as he had once desired.