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Jyoti Basu Death Anniversary: Remembering the beacon of Indian Communism

FPJ Web Desk | Updated on: Sunday, January 16, 2022, 05:04 PM IST

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While reading Indian-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri's 'The Lowland', you're instantly taken to the 60s Naxalite movement in Kolkata.

The Naxalbari movement also saw differences in the Communist Party of India. Two years after the India-China War of 1962, the party split, leading to the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and Jyoti Basu, the beacon of Indian Communism, became one of the founding members of its politburo

Jyoti Basu had many achievements to his name, such as being India’s longest-serving chief minister (overtaken by Pawan Kumar Chamling) and a beacon of India’s Communist movement. But in 1996, he came close to adding another feather to his cap — almost becoming India’s first Bengali and Marxist prime minister, eventually losing out to H.D. Deve Gowda when his Communist Party of India (Marxist) decided not to join the United Front government.

His watch saw many big initiatives, such as land reforms, minimum wages for agricultural labourers, a three-tier panchayati system, dole for the unemployed and widows, and the establishment of a separate department for youth services, as per his obituary in Frontline magazine.

Today, let's remember the Leftist stalwart and CPI(M) patriarch Jyoti Basu on his eleventh death anniversary.

Basu had served as the chief minister of the state from 1977 to 2000. Basu ruled West Bengal for 23 uninterrupted years between 1977 and 2000, and was known for his realpolitik — at the height of the Vietnam War, he renamed the Calcutta street on which the American consulate stood after Communist icon Ho Chi Minh, and then went to Washington to seek investment.

Born into an upper middle-class family in Calcutta, Basu was introduced to politics through the Communist Party of Great Britain, becoming acquaintances with Harry Pollitt, Rajani Palme Dutt, Ben Bradley and other leaders. He also attended lectures of Harold Laski, a Marxist poet who later became chairman of the British Labour Party, and involved himself in organising various activities of Indian students in the UK.

The turning point in his political life came in 1938 when he joined the London Majlis and became its first secretary. The main function of the Majlis was to organise meetings of Indian leaders visiting England with those of the Labour Party and other Socialists, and this brought Basu into contact with the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.

Leading light of the Indian Left

Having developed a firm belief in the Communist ideals, Basu returned to India in 1940 and joined the Communist Party of India, also becoming secretary of the Friends of the Soviet Union and Anti-Fascist Writers’ and Artists’ Association in Calcutta.

In 1977, after the Emergency, the Left Front came to power in West Bengal, with Basu, who had switched to the Satgachia constituency, becoming CM.

He retired from active politics in 2000, leaving the Left Front government in the hands of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who ruled for 11 more years. Basu remained a member of the CPI(M) politburo till 2008, and a special invitee of the party’s central committee till his death.

Basu suffered multiple organ failure on 1 January 2010, and passed away on 17 January 2010.

As per his wishes, his body and eyes were handed over to SSKM Hospital, Kolkata, for research.

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Published on: Sunday, January 16, 2022, 05:04 PM IST