People's Democracy

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


No. 27

July 07, 2013


Comrade Jyoti Basu

A Legend in his Lifetime


A K Padmanabhan


COMRADE Jyoti Basu, one of the founders of the CITU and one of the great and popular leaders of Indian political spectrum was born in Calcutta on July 8, 1914.  Both his parents hailed from the Dhaka district of the present day Bangladesh.  His mother belonged to an upper middle class, land owning family and father, from a “relatively lower middle class back ground, was a doctor and had been to the US for higher studies”.


As he himself has noted in his memoirs, “there was not even a whiff of politics in the family”.  But he also noted that though “politics was not the hot subject in our household, a certain sense of sympathy and respect for the revolutionaries of those days was not missing though it was underplayed”.


Growing up in an atmosphere of increasing revolutionary movements, storming of the Chittagong armoury, Gandhiji’s hunger strike, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s speeches in largely attended public meetings etc, he was attracted to political developments.


In his memoirs Jyoti Basu refers to the police beatings he and a cousin had to face at Netaji’s public meeting.  He says “The entire area resembled a battle field.  There were mounted policemen, ordinary  constables and sergents in uniform.  When the sergents gave charge, we decided we would not run for safety, naturally, as we started walking away in the face of onslaught, a few canes fell on our backs.  But, we did not flee, we walked briskly to father’s chamber”.


Here we find a young boy of 16 years, with a mind full of support to the freedom movement daring the police beatings, which later on through his life developed into a leadership quality of facing all challenges squarely.




In the year 1935, Jyoti Basu obtained his degree and then left for England for his studies in Law. The four year period of study in London moulded him into an activist of the India League, then under the leadership of V K Krishna Menon who later became a cabinet minister in Nehru’s Cabinet.  Later, an organisation named London Majlis was formed and Jyoti Basu was its first secretary.  This organisation worked for generating support for the Indian freedom movement and also hosted receptions to visiting nationalist leaders.  Through this, he came into contact with leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and others.  A group of Indian students including Jyoti Basu, attracted to the anti-imperialist movement and Marxian thought, were active at that time in London and had close contact with the Communist Party of Great Britain.


Immediately after his exams, without even waiting for the results to be declared, he returned to India in the early 1940s and established contacts with the Communist Party of India.  Though he got enrolled as a barrister in Calcutta High Court, he started working actively as a whole timer of the Communist Party.




In 1944 he started organiSing the Bengal-Nagpur Railway Workers Union and was elected as its general secretary.  Thus began his active involvement in trade union activities which continued till his last days.


It was during this period that Jyoti Basu entered the electoral field.  In the elections to the legislative assembly in 1946 he was nominated as the candidate of the Communist Party from the Railway Workers constituency.  His main opponent was Humayun Kabir, who was also the president of the Railway Employees Association and was fully supported by the Congress.


His long period of legislative work started with this election, which he could win despite various malpractices.  It is interesting to note what he had to say about the election experiences in 1946.


My very first election as a candidate gave me a taste of what bourgeois elections were all about.  It was baptism by fire.  There was a conscious effort to buy votes.  At another level, I saw what honesty and idealism were all about.  Not one person of the electoral college (Railway workers eligible to vote)  had betrayed us, the dedication, perseverance and loyalty of our comrades ensured my victory and above all it was a victory of Railway Workers”.  The lessons of the 1946 election and victory in that would have helped him in all the elections to the state legislature that he contested later!


Jyoti Basu continued to be a member of the West Bengal legislature after independence.  After Bengal was partitioned, all members of the legislature, elected in 1946 from West Bengal area continued as members.  He notes in his memoirs, on the first day of the session after independence which was held in November 1947 – “It may be recalled that on the very first day of the session the state police used lathis and teargas to disperse a gathering of 25 thousand farmers and students organized by the Bengal Provincial Krishak Sabha”.  This was surely a taste of things to come in the later days.


Jyoti Basu, played a leading role in West Bengal and also at the national level in developing the democratic and left movement.  He was involved in building a powerful trade union movement in the state.  In between, the Communist Party was banned, leaders including Jyoti Basu were arrested.  Braving all the attacks, the movement grew in strength.  Jyoti Basu, won the elections in 1952 and again in 1957.  In 1957, he was the formal leader of the opposition in the state legislature.  He won again in 1962 from the same Baranagar constituency.


The period from 1962 to 1967 was of great importance in the history of India.  The Communist Party of India faced a split and the CPI(M) was formed.  Jyoti Basu was elected as a member of the nine member Polit Bureau of the Party and he continued to be in the highest body of the party till his death.




1967 saw the defeat of the Congress in many states and Jyoti Basu was the architect of the new setup after the defeat of the Congress in West Bengal.  In a triangular contest, the Congress was defeated and the two fronts – one led by the CPI(M) and another by the Bangla Congress – came together to form a United Front government with Ajoy Mukherji of Bangla Congress as chief minister and Jyoti Basu as deputy CM.  Thus started the long history of coalition governments in Bengal.


This government lasted only eight months but created history by taking pro-people steps like nationalisation of the Tram Company and repeal of draconian West Bengal Security Act which was used to suppress the people’s movement.  This government declared that the police force will not take a partisan stand in favour of managements in labour disputes.


The next elections in 1969 saw the two fronts contesting together against Congress.  Jyoti Basu became deputy chief minister again with Home and Police as his portfolios.  This government laid the foundation for the land reforms in the state and took many pro-people decisions.  This government lasted only 13 months.  President’s rule was promulgated on March 29, 1970.


This period was a turbulent one in the history of West Bengal.  The Naxalite movement began its murderous attacks against the CPI(M) and its supporters and was also joined by Congressmen in this.  There was a planned murderous attack on Jyoti Basu who was shot at on the railway platform at Patna on March 31, 1970 and a comrade who came to receive him was killed. Jyoti Basu escaped with bruises on his hand.




On the trade union front also, new developments were taking place. With massive struggles in various sectors and in different states, various questions were raised on the approach of the predominant leadership of the AITUC at that time.  It was in such a situation that the decision to call an all India trade union conference to discuss about the formation of a new central trade union organisation was taken.  Jyoti Basu was one of those who took the lead in this along with others like Comrades B T Ranadive, P R Ramamurti.  In West Bengal, the West Bengal Provincial Trade Union Council fully supported this move.  Jyoti Basu was the chairman of the reception committee for the conference in Calcutta.


In his welcome address to the Conference on May28, 1970, he dealt in detail with the situation in West Bengal and achievements in the short period of the two United Front governments. He also dealt with the tasks of the conference, underlining building up of unity of the working class for struggle, mobilisation of allies to shoulder the historic responsibilities of the working class along with various other issues.


In the Founding Conference, Jyoti Basu was elected as a Working Committee member and in the Second Conference he was elected as vice-president, in which position he guided CITU till his last days.


Jyoti Basu gave leadership to the struggles of the working people in the turbulent days after 1970, and guidance in building up the most powerful unit of the CITU in the country in the state of West Bengal.


The struggles of the West Bengal people, the innumerable killings of leaders and cadres of the CPI(M), the CITU and other mass organisations in the period of 1970-77 are all part of history.  The working people of West Bengal withstood all these cruelties, fought for restoration of democracy and finally became victorious.




In 1977, the first Left Front government was formed and Comrade Jyoti Basu was sworn in as chief minister. For 23 years he continued as chief minister, winning five consecutive elections. He then stepped down from the post and without contesting, spearheaded the battle in the next two elections.  A total of 34 years of Left Front government is a record for any Left government in a bourgeois system. Jyoti Basu created history as the longest serving chief minister in India.


The achievements of the Left Front governments of West Bengal, starting from restoration of democratic rights and release of all political detenues are also well known. Jyoti Basu had made a declaration that “this Government will not rule from Writers Building only” immediately after taking over in 1977.


The limitations of a state government were also made clear to the people of West Bengal.  In an interview he clarified about the experiment of the Left Front government:  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 part of India”.


The 34 year Left Front government  in West Bengal made an immense contribution to the building up of the left and democratic movement in the country and initiated innumerable pro-people programmes, especially for the workers, peasants and rural workers.




In the elections to the Lok Sabha, in 2009, the Left Front faced a setback.  At that time he said “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”.


This is the immediate task Jyoti Basu had outlined to the leaders of the working class movement in West Bengal. The lofty ideals, for which he struggled all through his public life of more than seventy years are there for us to achieve.


Though Jyoti Basu left us forever on January 17, 2010, his life and teachings will surely guide us towards our goals.


Let us never forget what he said “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… There should not be any regrets in having led a life of disuse.  That has always been my bottom line.


Long live the legacy of the great revolutionary Comrade Jyoti Basu.