By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: Jyoti Basu is no more but the incomparable stamp left by communist patriarch on politics of the country and West Bengal cannot be ever erased away. Ninety-five year old Basu breathed his last this Sunday at a hospital in Kolkata, where he was admitted earlier this month after he complained of uneasiness. Described as a â€œpolitical legend,â€ Basu towered over West Bengalâ€™s politics as the longest serving Chief Minister, for a record period of 23 years, from 1977 till 2000. The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led state government, with Basu as Chief Minister, spelt emergence of Left Front for the first time at the helm in West Bengal.
Basu is credited for championing the cause of farmers, giving them a political voice through the Panchayati Raj (decentralization of political power to the village-level) and by effectively implementing land reforms. He is remembered for restoring political stability in West Bengal which had faced severe disturbance in 1970s from Maoist insurgency. His political policy of forming a coalition government in West Bengal is there to stay at the national level for perhaps a long time to come. It led to like-minded parties come together as a third alternative to Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in late eighties and nineties. Though the third alternative did not make much of a political impact, the strategy of forming coalition governments remains in the lead till date. Initially known to be strongly anti-Congress, Basuâ€™s secular inclination led to the Left Front give external support to the Congress-led coalition government in 2004 to keep BJP out of power.
Secular ideals followed by Basu restricted communal forces from entering West Bengal. This stood out markedly when as the Chief Minister, Basu played a firm role in not allowing any disturbance in West Bengal when anti-Sikh violence surfaced following assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and when communal riots spread across the nation over demolition of Babari Masji by extremist Hindus in December 1992.
Though a leftist to the core, who was first introduced to this ideology while studying law in United Kingdom, Basu is also remembered for not being averse to capitalism and attracting foreign investment to West Bengal. On this, he stated: â€œWe want capital, both foreign and domestic. After all we are working in a capitalist system. Socialism is not possible now.â€
Not surprisingly, the political icon was close to becoming the countryâ€™s first Left-bloc Prime Minister in 1996, as the head of United Front coalition government. His party, however, declined to take over power, a decision to which he yielded even though he criticized it as â€œhistoric blunder.â€ The CPI-M viewed his criticism as his â€œpersonalâ€ opinion. Though he never held the office of the Prime Minister, Basu is remembered for being a guide on several crucial issues to many prime ministers. During the late eighties, he succeeded in convincing late premier Rajiv Gandhi on forming a hill council to restore peace in Darjeeling, where an agitation was on for a separate state.
In her condolence message, addressed to his son, Chandan Basu, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi stated: â€œWe continued to count on him for his wise counsel even after he retired from political life.â€ â€œTogether with Indiraji and Rajivji, I held him in the highest esteem. I have warmest memories of our many meetings – of his charm and grace and his deep humanity.â€ Describing him as â€œa tireless crusader against communalism, fundamentalism, casteism and all kinds of obscurantism; a warrior for social justice and equality and for the eradication of poverty; a true patriot who always put the national interest above all else,â€ Gandhi said: â€œHe was a towering figure of our national life, whose noble vision, superb judgment and depth of experience was valued greatly.â€
â€œIn the years after he relinquished the Chief Ministership, he continued to be looked upon as an elder statesman, whose advice was sought by many political leaders in the state,â€ President Pratibha Patil said in her condolence message. â€œIn his passing away, the nation has lost a veteran and an eminent public figure,â€ Patil said.
Expressing grief, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in his condolence message that Basuâ€™s â€œpassing awayâ€ â€œmarks the end of an era in annals of Indian politics.â€ â€œHe was a powerful regional voice in the national political scene and helped to strengthen Indian federalism,â€ Singh said. â€œOn many occasions in my career, I turned to him for his sagacious advice on all matters, whether they related to West Bengal or to issues of national importance. His advice was statesmanlike but always pragmatic and based on unshakable values that he championed throughout his political career,â€ Singh said.
The condolence resolution of CPI-M Polit Bureau expressed â€œprofound grief at passing away of Comrade Basu.â€ Though he stepped down from Chief Ministership in 2000 due to health reasons, â€œhe continued to work and discharge responsibilities till the end of his life.â€ â€œThe Left movement in the country was fortunate in having such an accomplished and dedicated leader at helm of affairs in West Bengal and in leadership of CPI-M for such a long timeâ€¦ The Polit Bureau salutes the memory of our beloved departed comrade.â€
Tributes and condolence messages poured in from all over the country, with few states declaring a state mourning as a mark of respect. West Bengal government announced a three-day state mourning. Expressing grief, former prime minister and senior BJP leader Atal Bihar Vajpayee said that his demise had â€œended a chapter in countryâ€™s politics.â€