People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 04

January 24, 2010



Lal Salam Comrade Founder Editor


COMRADE Jyoti Basu is no more. The spontaneous outpouring of grief and solidarity was truly unprecedented.  The sea of humanity that flooded the streets of Kolkata was the most moving homage that Bengal paid to one of its greatest sons.  This acquired a national stature with the leaders of the entire political spectrum in the country hailing Jyoti Basu as one of the greatest sons of India. 

Jyoti Basu emerged as a legend in his own lifetime.  He remains the longest serving chief minister of any state in independent India.  These 23 years could have been many more but for the fact that Comrade Jyoti Basu voluntarily decided to step down  since he felt (neither the administration nor the people) that he was no longer able to devote sufficient time to discharge the responsibilities of being the chief minister as he was accustomed to.  This, in itself, is unprecedented in the history of India’s bourgeois political parties.  He accomplished this by ensuring a smooth transition, by enlisting the support of the Party, Left Front and the people.

He is also, probably, the longest serving MLA in the country.  He entered the undivided Bengal Provincial Assembly in 1946.  This was at a time when Mahatma Gandhi was alive and there was a widespread anti-Communist propaganda campaign distorting their role in the Quit India movement.  Since then, till he voluntarily retired from parliamentary politics in 2000, he had won continuously in all elections except for one term – 1972-77.  1972 election is now widely recognised as having been universally rigged.  Both his terms as the CM and MLA could have been much longer,   but for his personal decision to relinquish. 

Apart from these and many other formidable  personal achievements, the empathy for Jyoti Basu amongst the people  can only be understood by the fact that his own political evolution  during the last seven decades – since 1940 when he returned from England to become a Communist wholetimer – is contempraneous with the evolution of modern India.  These initial years in the freedom struggle transformed into the struggle to covert the political freedom of the country into the economic freedom of its people.  This was a reflection of his own self declared mission of working for human emancipation and liberation.  This commitment was thoroughly internalised by Jyoti Basu in his entire life. 

Modern India at that time was evolving through major struggles that led  eventually to the integration of the feudal princely States into the Indian Union.  The struggles led by the Communists brought to the fore the agenda of land reforms and the abolition of feudal zamindari and other land tenure systems.  This was also the period when the various linguistic nationalities in India who had united in the struggle for freedom, were seeking their distinct identity.  A process that finally led to the linguistic reorganisation of the Indian States in 1956. 

Jyoti Basu’s political evolution converged  with the evolution of modern India based irrevocably on the premise that the recognition and celebration of India’s diversity can only be on the basis of its secular democratic foundations.  In his own personal life, Jyoti Basu has seen the trauma of partition with his family hailing from Dhaka, today’s capital of Bangladesh. He belonged to that generation which has not only reconciled to the partition but has grown to respect it as part of irreversible history.  The very fact that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, alongwith a large delegation of major political parties,  came to Kolkata to pay homage  is testimony of this.  (Her message and the moving tribute of the Bangladesh Parliament is carried elsewhere in this issue.)

Jyoti Basu’s firm commitment to our country’s secular democratic character and administrative structures  remained a constant feature of his work and activities.  There was this famous  spat with Atal Behari Vajpayee when Jyoti Basu described the destruction of Babri Masjid and the activities of the communal forces  as a barbarity.  When Vajpayee questioned him as to why he uses such strong language, he famously replied that there was nothing else more appropriate in English language.  The firmness with which his administration tackled  the anti-Sikh riots following Indira Gandhi’s assassination or  the prevention of communal riots in Bengal, that engulfed other parts of the country following  the demolition of Babri Masjid, was a reflection  of his deep commitment to this concept of modern India.  He had succeeded in converting Bengal which historically was prone to communal  conflagrations, into an oasis of communal and social harmony.  As communal forces represent the very antithesis of this evolution of modern India, Jyoti Basu and CPI(M) have worked to isolate and defeat the communal forces and strengthen the secular forces.

Simultaneously, his entire concentration was on  carrying forward the struggle to convert India’s political independence into economic independence for its people – socialism.  Within the Indian Communist movement, however, a very intense ideological battle erupted on how this was to be achieved.  Steering clear and battling against both the  right and left deviations, Jyoti Basu, alongwith his other comrades who eventually formed the CPI(M), adopted the correct line of combining parliamentary and extra parliamentary activity and struggles to achieve this objective.    Jyoti Basu excelled in using parliamentary democracy, its institutions and fora for both advancing this struggle and simultaneously providing greater relief to the people.

In his first speech after taking oath for the first time as the chief minister in 1977, Jyoti Basu declared the nature of his government by stating that the Left Front has not assumed power but has assumed office to serve the people.  He declared that the government will not function only from the Writers Building but  from amongst the people.  This is when he declared that the police shall never be used against the people or to quell democratic struggles of the workers and the peasants.  A commitment to which he remained true. 

It is on the basis of such an understanding that the government under his leadership initiated land reforms, widely regarded today as having laid the foundations for the transformation of rural Bengal.  The development of panchayati raj institutions, taking democracy to the grassroots was not only  the granting of rights to the people  but enlisting their participation in the democratic process.  Such a deepening of democracy was unprecedented. It is only after over a decade that the central government, under Rajiv Gandhi, amended the Indian constitution to make panchayati raj institutions mandatory all across the country. 

The championing of centre-state relations initiated by the CPI(M) and Jyoti Basu by mobilising  all the non-Congress chief ministers in the 1970s and 80s had resulted in the expansion of political space for regional parties, devolution of finances to the states  and decentralisation.  Needless to add, the struggle on a proper restructuring of  centre-state relations strengthening the federal character of the Indian constitution  continues to remain a very major issue today.   Apart from these three major issues that Jyoti Basu championed, there are many initiatives that the government, under his stewardship, undertook.  For instance, he was one of the first to constitute a separate ministry for environment and science and technology. 

Apart from all these, the main facet of Jyoti Basu’s personality that attracted people towards him was his unassailable faith in them.  He would always urge the Party and its cadre to go to the people and explain to them what we are doing.  Take them into confidence as to why we are unable to do what  we want to  due to the limitations of India’s constitution. He would, often, repeat that he was not presiding over a ‘socialist republic of West Bengal’ but was the chief Minister of a state which has no more powers than a ‘glorified municipality’.  When you take the people into confidence, explain your objectives and the partial ability to fulfill these because of the limitations, then they will not only understand but will join in the struggle.  This was his faith in the people till the end.  This was the strength of his credibility amongst the people.  They never questioned or even doubted his integrity. 

There are other features that endeared Jyoti Basu to the people.  One of these was his  fearless personal courage.  During the first United Front government of 1967,  sections of the state police,  with their arms,  marched into the state assembly on some demands.  The speaker, all ministers and MLAs  fled in mortal fear. Jyoti Basu was the only one who remained in his chamber.  When some policemen entered his chamber looking aghast at his  continuing to work so normally, Jyoti Basu told them that if they wish to do such activities, they should first remove their uniforms.  Further, he warned them that they may do what they wish inside the assembly premises with their arms, but they should remember that there are people waiting outside who will answer them for what they did here.  It was the turn of the armed policemen to flee! 

On another occasion, March 31, 1970, an assassin shot at Jyoti Basu at the Patna railway station as he got down from the train.  However, a CPI(M) sympathiser, Ali Imam,  had just then stepped forward to shake hands and, unfortunately, was hit by the bullet and died on the spot.  Jyoti Basu remained unfazed. He went to Imam’s house, consoled the family, arranged for their needs to compensate Imam’s earnings, expressed condolences and proceeded to address the meeting  for which he had arrived at Patna. 

The complete internalisation of his theoretical commitment to Marxism and the translation of this into practice was the hallmark of his life.  Nothing more epitomises this than the following observation he made when he pledged, on April 4, 2003, his body to medical science:  “As a Communist, I am pledged to serve humanity till my last breath.  I am happy that now I will continue to serve even after my death.”

Jyoti Basu’s indomitable fighting spirit that he displayed all his life was there to be seen in death as well.  Running his 96th year when he was brought to the hospital with pneumonia, medical science and doctors, naturally, saw not much hope.  Jyoti Basu, as always, was to surprise everybody.  For 17 days, the fight continued and his body refused to say, “I give up”.  `Never say give up’, in fact, sums up the spirit of his life. 

As an Urdu poet said:

“Ask not how many moments constitute your life,

Ask how much life is there in every moment.”

People’s Democracy pays its heartfelt homage to its founder editor, renewing our pledge to carry forward “Our mission”.