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Jyoti Basu

Comment: Jyoti Basu, a pragmatic patriarch

Jyoti Basu 46%

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If it's sensible to talk of the completeness of a political career, Jyoti Basu -- West Bengal's chief minister for 23 years, and a veteran of nearly seven decades of politics -- had a complete political career. Nine years after he quit as chief minister, Basu's demise at the age of 95 is the literal end of an era in Indian politics.

 

Much of the post Independence history of opposition to a paramount Congress would have differed in colour and character without this figure who was initiated into Marxism in London, built a constituency for himself among the railway trade unionists in the '40s, got elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1946, helped organise the leftist mass movement -- gigantic rallies and fearsome strikes -- that became the hallmark of the Indian Left's street-fighting decades.

 

When the Communist Party of India split in 1964, Basu left with the Marxists as a founding member of the CPM politburo. As chief minister, Basu consolidated on the initial successes of the CPM, such as Operation Barga -- Bengal's phenomenal land reforms -- and local government. But it's debatable if Basu, through the tumultuous '60s and '70s and even in his early years in power, wasn't more the public face of the party, while policy and politics would be determined by Pramod Dasgupta (PDG) till the latter's death in 1982. And his party, in a "historic blunder" as late as 1996, declared that he couldn't lead a multi-party Union government that wouldn't implement a Marxist programme. That might yet mitigate history's verdict on Basu for the rut West Bengal was driven into during his long tenure -- the flight of capital, pervasive power outages, shuttered factories, flight of intellectual capital as the government decided English education (or "elite" education) was no longer necessary, are but the gentler aspects of Bengal's steady ruination, which a burst of reformist zeal under a new chief minister could not stem. Basu, moreover, has departed at a time when West Bengal's social indicators ha. e slid vis-à-vis Bangladesh's and the Marxists are at their political weakest in three plus decades.

 

Read more: Pakistan Matters (18/01/2010)


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