Sunday, 31 January 2010

Last Red Salute to Joyti Basu

Demise of Jyoti Basu – End of Era
of Bhadralok Domination
Prof Devendar Kaushik, M.A., LL.B. Ph.D. (USSR),
Emeritus Professor at JNU, Expert on Central Asia,
Russian Studies First Non Russian  to receive
the 'Order of Friendship', the Highest Honour from
and Russian President Vladimir Putin for his
great contribution to the development of friendship
and cultural cooperation between
the people of Russia & India.

The death of comrade Jyoti Basu, CPM Patriarch from West Bengal and longest serving state Chief Minister in India has left a great void in the communist movement which is not likely to be filled. Jyotida, as he was fondly called, had the rare distinction of a democratically elected communist head of state government who guided the destiny of West Bengal over a long period of 23 years. True, before him another communist leader, E.M.S.Namboodripad too served as chief minister of Kerala state for a brief period of less than two years. But E.M.S., the first communist leader to become Chief Minister of a state in India through ballot was dismissed by the Union government of Jawaharlal Nehru at the instance of his daughter Indira Gandhi who was then President of the Indian National Congress. Before her 1971 massive electoral victory Indira Gandhi stayed in power as Prime Minister from 1969 to 1971 with communist support. Again the first UPA government led by the Congress Party ruled the country with the support of the communist parties. Jyoti Basu along with Harkishen Singh Surjeet, was the architect of the UPA (one) Congress led coalition government which the left parties supported from outside. Basu, in fact was known to disfavor the course of withdrawal of communist support for the UPA government over the issue of civil nuclear deal with the US resulting in the debacle of the Left at the last parliamentary poles.

Unlike E.M.S., a home-spun communist with a rural background who evolved into a Marxist from the ranks of the Indian National Congress as a prominent leader of the Congress Socialist Party functioning within the INC, Jyoti Basu was the son of US educated medical doctor who himself was educated in England. Returning home as a communist Basu became a trade unionist elected to the West Bengal Assembly four times from a constituency dominated by railway workers.

A sahib clad in immaculate white bhadralok (educated middle class Bengali elite) dhoti, Jyoti Basu was equally at home with both Shakespeare and Tagore. This Bengali bhadralok communist proved to be a great survivor in the rough and tumble of Indian parliamentary politics. Besides his charismatic personality and great oratorical skill he was helped in this by his unmatched pragmatism. He grew in stature mastering the intricacies of coalition politics. Graduating with distinction from the West Bengal school of practical politics which he joined as Deputy Chief Minister in 1967 as a partner of the Congress rebels, he rose to become the Chief Minister of West Bengal in a CPM – led Left coalition in 1977. In 1996 he missed becoming the Prime Minister of India through the ‘historic blunder’ of his less pragmatic party colleagues who did not allow him to accept the assignment.

I had an opportunity to meet this ace practitioner of pragmatic parliamentary communism in 1967 when as Deputy Chief Minister of West Bengal he dropped unexpectedly at the place of Muzaffar Ahmad, a Comintern-era communist veteran and one of the founders of communist movement in India. I was discussing with Muzaffar Ahmad the Tashkent episode of the formation of the CPI in 1920 at the initiative of M.N.Roy. The documents throwing light on this were discovered by me in the Party Achives in Tashkent. I was deeply impressed by the urbane manners of Jyotida and the humane concern of this upcoming state communist leader about the health of an aged party stalwart. Muzaffar Ahmad introduced me to him and we had tea together. I told them about the bitter infighting and personal rivalries of the Indian revolutionaries in Tashkent and Moscow. I wonder how things would have been quite different if there had been a skillful realpolitik man like Jyoti Basu to build bridges between the various groups of Indian revolutionaries and communists fighting with each other and often at odds with the Comintern. It seems Jyoti Basu was a frequent visitor at Muzaffar Ahmad’s place. CPM Politburo member Brinda Karat recalls having met Jyoti Basu for the first time in 1969 at Muzaffar Ahmad’s place. However, the bhadralok communist practitioner of pragmatism is also known to be a regular evening caller at the Raj Bhawan in Calcutta to sip scotch whiskey with Governor Dharam Vira whom during the Assembly proceedings in the day he accused of being a reactionary agent of the centre.

The report card of Jyoti Basu’s long term of more than two decades in power in West Bengal is a mixed one. On the positive achievement side he is credited with operation Barga resulting in substantial land redistribution among the landless peasants and acquisition of rights by the share-croppers as well as empowerment of village panchayats – he was a pioneer in this field. Keeping west Bengal free from communal riots is also among his notable achievements. On the debit side, the practice of cader-cracy under him led to the flight of industry from the state which because of its high level of excellent modern education system and presence of a large English educated middle class had all the potential to become India’s industrial and IT hub. But under Basu’s regime business was hounded out by the communist cadres, computers were barred from government offices and English was abolished in government primary schools. Thus, the one time thriving Calcutta became a backwater of economic and cultural stagnation. Nor did bhadralok communism banish poverty from rural West Bengal. Of the 18 districts of the State, 14 figure in the list of most poor 100 districts of the country.

Even with his not so bright record of achievements in the field of governance and development, the sahib communist leader through his superb skills in managing coalition politics succeeded in keeping his party as one of the important players in the political arena of Indian politics. It is doubtful if his maverick successors in CPM leadership will be able to continue with this success. Already they have been cut to size in the last parliamentary elections and are apparently on their way out of power in West Bengal as the results of local elections have shown. Basu’s death, one is afraid, may turn out to be an obituary for the parliamentary path of the Communist Parties in India leaving the political space for the extremist Naxalites.

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