The Economist - London
January 21, 2010
“Jyoti Basu, almost India’s first Communist prime minister, died on January 17th, aged 95.
INDIAN politics since independence has not been short of milk-and-water socialism, such as that on offer in the Congress party. But it has lacked charismatic figures on the left. The exception—in a diminutive, elegant, determined shape—was Jyoti Basu. For 20 years, with a few breaks, Mr Basu was the leader of West Bengal’s opposition; for 23 years he was the state’s chief minister. He was also a communist, and a charming one.
His memoirs, written at the end of his life, proclaimed a fervent and orthodox Marxism-Leninism. His career was often different. Though he longed for the masses of India to “emerge victorious” in a society without caste, class or exploitation, Mr Basu was above all a pragmatist. ………
This thoughtful, flexible politician hardly resembled the young hothead who first stood for election, in 1946. Mr Basu was then deep in organising the railway workers, planning strikes and organising safe-houses for communist comrades. He preferred direct action to the ballot (“such a bourgeois set-up”) and the laboured etiquette of Question Hour, but soon saw the point of representative democracy. From the 1950s onwards he refined his manifesto of land reform, decentralisation, a minimum wage, free trade unions, fixed food prices. It was a time of hunger and unrest, with thousands of farmers and labourers besieging the assembly in Calcutta with cries of “Give us starch!” The ruling Congress party kept the crowds at a distance, or got the police to disperse them with tear gas and rifle fire. But Mr Basu went out to Esplanade East, talked to the people and brought their grievances inside……….”
The Daily Telegraph- London
January 17, 2010
“Basu was a Communist who believed in parliamentary democracy. He founded the Marxist wing of the Communist Party of India (CPM) in 1964, and brought peace to West Bengal after a violent uprising by Leftists known as "Naxalites" in the late 1960s and 1970s; he also initiated much-needed reform to redistribute land among the poorest farmers.
His secularism, meanwhile, had positive repercussions in that, when violence between Hindus and Muslims occurred in other parts of India, West Bengal in general and Calcutta in particular almost completely escaped religious clashes. …………
During his five years as a student in Britain, Basu was much influenced by thinkers such as Ben Bradley, Rajani Palme Dutt and Harry Pollitt. He became convinced that only the British Left was sincere about opposing Hitler and Fascism. More importantly, he decided that only the Left would back Indian independence. Members of his family would later say: "London made him into a Marxist."
Basu was first elected to the West Bengal state assembly in 1946. Six years later he became the delegate for the Calcutta constituency of Baranagar, which he represented for most of his political career. He became chief minister in 1977, remaining in the post until 2000, when he stood down owing to ill health.
Since his retirement Basu had been viewed as India's senior elder statesman, and was often consulted by political leaders in Delhi. He is credited with keeping in check the wilder Leftist elements in the Congress-led coalition governments that have ruled India since 2004. …….”
The Wall Street Journal – USA
January 18, 2010
India's Posterboy of Communism Remembered
By SUBHADIP SIRCAR
“KOLKATA -- He could have been India's first Communist Prime Minister. His party didn't let him. He famously later called it a "historical blunder".
Jyoti Basu, who for decades led one of the longest-serving elected Communist governments in the world, died Sunday. He was 95. He died of complications after contracting pneumonia.
Mr. Basu was an unlikely Communist. Most contemporaries and comrades called him Jyotibabu, the epithet a common reverential reference used for the Bengali gentry. He mostly spoke in unfinished sentences and was never known for exceptional oratory. Yet he became synonymous with the state of West Bengal in eastern India, which he helmed as chief minister from 1977 till 2000, when he relinquished his position due to failing health. He still holds the record for the longest-serving chief minister for any state in India.
Mr. Basu was typically seen in starched white dhuti-panjabi, traditional Bengali clothing. In temperament, however, he was more British. Perhaps that had to do with a stint as a student in England where he also received his initiation into politics. ………
Mr. Basu was successful in bringing back normalcy in the state. His capacity as an administrator was proved once again when he shielded the Sikh community in West Bengal after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, when thousands were massacred across the rest of the country, particularly in Delhi.
When the Communist Party of India split in 1964, Mr. Basu sided with the more extreme Communist Party of India (Marxist). The party clamped a firm hold on West Bengal politics by ensuring land rights for the sharecroppers. ………
Mr. Basu towered over these apparent failures, remaining a father figure in the national political arena. He was offered the prime ministership when a coalition opposed to the ruling Congress party came to power in 1996. But his party famously declined the offer, a move that didn't go down well with West Bengal, which would have had its first prime minister in Basu. ……..
Possibly, that's because Mr. Basu wasn't a dogmatic Marxist, but more a practitioner of realpolitik. Despite political opposition to the Congress all his life, Mr. Basu shared cordial relations with most political opponents, notably Mrs. Gandhi, who led the country for most of his chief ministership.
"Jyoti Basu was a pragmatist who was more open to dialogue with other political parties and more sympathetic to private enterprise than his hard-line colleagues in the Indian Communist movement," says Mr. Ramachandra Guha, historian and author of India After Gandhi……..”
January 17, 2010
Communist patriarch Jyoti Basu dead
By Sujoy Dhar
KOLKATA (Reuters) - Jyoti Basu, the patriarch of Indian communism whose pragmatic politics twice brought him close to becoming prime minister, died on Sunday. He was 95…….
"Jyoti Basu played the role of the elderly patriarch whose more mature, considered view and ability to retain the broad base of support were very important," political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan told Reuters. …….
Basu died from multiple organ failure at a city hospital, where tens of thousands of his admirers gathered, many teary-eyed. Others raised their hands in a Soviet-style salute as Basu's body was carried in a hearse to a city mortuary.
"The passing away of Basu from the scene marks the end of an era in the annals of Indian politics," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement.
A London-trained barrister, Basu entered politics as a union leader and gained fame leading West Bengal for almost a quarter century, the longest-serving chief minister in Indian political history. He stepped down in 2000 because of failing health.
He led the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) which is at the head of a ruling leftist coalition in West Bengal and which faces an election next year amid sliding popularity.
While Basu's rule was credited with bringing stability to West Bengal, he was blamed for allowing the economy to stagnate, often at the hands of militant trade unions opposing even the use of computers in government offices for fear of job losses.
Basu retired from active politics a decade ago, but his towering stature retained its unifying influence among the leftist groups and he continued to play the role of crisis manager and political arbitrator.
Kshiti Goswami, a West Bengal minister and a coalition ally, said it would be difficult to maintain the leftist coalition without the charismatic leader.
Basu's party and its allies, despite their long years in power, have often differed over policy issues such as acquiring farmland for industry as the communists struggle with the question of economic reforms to keep pace with rest of India.
But Basu's brand of liberal communism ensured wide acceptability for him and he was offered the job of prime minister twice in 1996, but he had to decline because of opposition from within his party.
Basu described that decision as "historic blunder" in an open criticism of a section of his party's dogmatic ideologues.
His staid and sometimes brusque style earned him the sobriquet of "a field marshal in a gentleman's garb". Mostly seen in a flowing white shirt and Indian wraparound, he was the communists' star poll campaigner, his personal charisma often drawing a million supporters to his public meetings.”
The New York Times
January 18, 2010
Jyoti Basu, 95, Leader of Communists inIndia, Dies
By JIM YARDLEY, New York Times
“Jyoti Basu, a powerful leftist leader who dominated politics in the state of West Bengal for more than two decades and nearly became India’s first Communist prime minister, died in Calcutta on Sunday. He was 95.
Mr. Basu’s stature in West Bengal was evident in a huge public outpouring of concern in recent days as his health steadily deteriorated. Anxious crowds gathered outside his Calcutta hospital, local newspapers carried front page updates on his condition and a litany of leading Indian politicians, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, made calls to him. He died of multiple organ failure, according to Indian news reports.
Mr. Basu was known as a savvy political survivor, skilled at building coalitions and forging consensus, whose biggest policy initiatives were sweeping land reforms in West Bengal. The initiatives distributed land to more than two million landless families and, in turn, established a leftist coalition known as the Left Front that dominated state politics for three decades until showing recent signs of weakening.
Mr. Singh praised Mr. Basu as a pragmatic, visionary politician whose death “marks the end of an era in the annals of Indian politics.” Citing his land initiatives as visionary, the prime minister also described Mr. Basu as “one of the most able administrators and politicians of independent India.”……
His land initiatives won national praise, but West Bengal’s industrial policies were criticized during his tenure. … .….”
January 17, 2010
Obituary: Jyoti Basu
By Subir Bhaumik, BBC News, Calcutta
“….. His government was credited with restoring political stability and bringing in land reforms which gave poor farmers an opportunity to have their own holdings. ……
……. His opportunity to become prime minister came in 1996 when a federal coalition was cobbled together by some Left, lower caste and regional parties.
Many felt that his long experience in holding together a Left coalition in Bengal would be invaluable in controlling an often fractious grouping at federal level.
But Mr Basu's party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) decided to support the coalition from outside and not join the government.
Some commentators believed that if he had become prime minister it might well have prevented the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party from coming to power.
Often described as a Fabian Socialist rather than an orthodox Communist, Jyoti Basu worked by consensus, successfully managing coalitions, while showing a healthy respect for the viewpoints of others.
"He made Communism look respectable," according to Sabyasachi Basu Roy Choudhuri, a Calcutta-based political analyst.
Analyst Ashis Chakrabarti said Mr Basu's success indicated social democracy had a future that
Communism did not.”
The Star Online- Malayasia
January 25, 2010
Passing of a communist icon
India diary by Coomi Kapoor
“……The tallest Indian Communist leader failed to expand the influence of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) beyond the borders of his own state. Indeed, he died at a time when there were signs of the party losing its grip over West Bengal as well.
Yet, Basu did play an important role in breaking the Congress monopoly on power both at the central
Government level and in West Bengal. Like most of his party colleagues from the pre-Independence years, Basu too came from a well-to-do family, acquired a degree from one of the more prestigious British universities, and joined the “revolutionary movement” as a full-time soldier of the Communist Party first in the UK and later in his native West Bengal. He devoted his entire working life to the “party”, organising railway workers in the initial years and then taking up political work. A soft-spoken, gentle-mannered Bengali Bhadralok in private, Basu soon became the face of the party in West Bengal ……”
Times of India
January 18, 2010
CM with a touch of steel
“December 1992: The Babri Masjid has come down and the shockwaves are being felt across Bengal. A mob vandalizes a mosque in Tangra and burns shanties. Communal tension flares up and the locality teeters on the brink of violence. But Jyoti Basu gets cracking instantly. The policemen move in and calm the people. They engage a private contractor to rebuild the mosque and repair the shanties. The work is completed in a week and the scars on the buildings and the minds are removed. …….
Summer of 1969: A group of policemen storm the assembly after two policemen are killed by SUCI activists in Kultali. The security men cannot contain the rebels who make their way straight to the home minister's room. Amid the ruckus and sloganeering, a slight, dhoti-clad figure emerges, looking straight into the policemen's eyes. Minutes later, two of the rebels are sitting at a table opposite Basu, talking quietly.
1992, Teen Bigha: Shouting themselves hoarse, Forward Bloc supporters start pelting stones the moment the chief minister gets off his car at the Teen Bigha corridor. Basu walks straight up to them, just to show the governments' (Centre and state) resolution in letting Bangladesh use the corridor. Rajiv Gandhi was stunned when he heard how the crisis had been resolved.
….. it's these moments where the difference between amity and chaos measures the strength of will that tell us a bit more about the man behind that proverbial iron mask.
It is said in the Writers' corridors that no one had ever seen Basu angry. Till that fateful December 6, 1992. Those expressionless eyes flickered and then blazed as the news of the demolition broke on TV. Sitting in his Writers' chambers, a red-faced Basu asked to be connected to Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. "What are they doing, sitting in Delhi?" Basu had thundered, angry that Rao hadn't taken his advice on imposing Article 356 to avoid such a situation. The Prime Minister was fumbling...
So how was Basu as a worker? Professional? Pragmatic? Decisive? Those who shared office space with him readily rated him A+. For, the former chief minister drew a distinct line between the Red party (CPM) and the Red building (Writers'). Among those vouching for the eminent administrator are Manish Gupta, who was chief secretary when Basu bowed out in 2000. "He treated the bureaucracy with respect and dignity," Gupta said.
Former DGP Amiya Samanta's take: "He could size up people very fast and had an elephant's memory." Former chief secretary Narayan Krishnamurthy says: "He expected the bureaucracy to perform." Ditto, says T C Dutt, who was chief secretary when the GNLF accord was being implemented. Dutt recalled "the dinner at Great Eastern Basu had thrown in Subash Ghisingh's honour even though he strictly refused to meet him until the accord happened".
People recall how Basu went against his own party to allow Kalyan Singh to hold a meeting in Kolkata soon after the Babri demolition. "Singh wasn't even chief minister then, but our chief minister had insisted the meeting should be allowed to take place because the government couldn't be seen as appeasing a particular community at the cost of hurting the sentiments of another," said Samanta.
…..Former police commissioner Tushar Talukdar has endless memories but chose to talk about the evening the chief minister suddenly called him from Lal Bazar. "He was leaving for Delhi, but the issue was urgent. We talked briefly, he was getting late and made for the door of the ante-chamber. I, too, got up. But then he turned and said, You must finish your tea'." ……..”
Dawn – Pakistan
January 21, 2010
Communist no doubt
By Jawed Naqvi
“……..Ruling West Bengal as the longest serving chief minister was good for the record books and perhaps for the party’s morale, but what credit did that do him or his communist ideology which has remained confined to two or three states in India?
There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that Jyoti Basu was a fine administrator and with time he became one of India’s most popular leaders. Had the CPI-M politburo not opposed the move, he would have become the country’s first communist prime minister in 1996…….
Basu’s death has come at vulnerable moment for his party. Rightwing consolidation is under way in national politics at full throttle. Religious revivalism has swamped nearly every political formation. The left camp is sharply divided over the tactics towards the Maoist upsurge. That’s the legacy Basu has left behind even if it is not entirely of his own making.
Karat will have to lift the debate higher than the simplistic commandments put out in the party organ that have clearly not worked. He may want to quote Marx’s declared motto to begin with: “Doubt everything!” That may include some of the tenets that stymied Basu’s otherwise brilliant quest for a just society.”
Daily Times – Pakistan
January 20, 2010
Farewell, Comrade Basu!
By Sarah Khan
“Blessed is the leader who seeks the best for those he serves” is an adage that best describes veteran communist leader of India, Jyoti Basu, who passed away on January 17, 2010. ……
Jyoti Basu wanted to make India a classless society. The land reforms he oversaw in West Bengal won praise from many sides. When asked in a 2005 interview if the world was closer to the goal of a classless society, he said, “That will take a longer time now, of that I am sure, because of what has happened in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe…we are still optimistic about our objectives. It will take time. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but later on. We hope for the best.” Here’s to Comrade Basu’s optimism and a world free of class-based society. Farewell comrade!”
Guardian – UK
January 17, 2010
Jyoti Basu obituary-
Veteran communist politician who nearly became prime minister of India
“Jyoti Basu, who has died aged 95, was one of the last Indian politicians whose careers started before the end of British rule. He was a stalwart of the much-fractured communist movement, but his devout socialism was tempered by pragmatism and an unerring political instinct. He was chief minister of his beloved West Bengal state for more than 23 continuous years – longer by far than any other chief minister of any Indian state.
That remarkable tenure was made possible by Basu's towering popularity, the result of seven decades of public and political service, most of it in Kolkata (or Calcutta, as it was known for most of his long life). He could have gone to the very top, as India's first communist prime minister in the mid-1990s……….
Under Basu, the CPM built a formidable, some would say ruthless, state apparatus. It was denied victory in the state elections of 1972, which were shamelessly rigged by the even more ruthless Congress machine, but was swept to power in 1977.
Over the following 23 years, Basu achieved much, and failed quite often too. He brought reform to a largely feudal landscape, and his redistribution of land-wealth made him electorally invincible. Even better, he brought stability to a previously chaotic state. But rural reform was paralleled by urban stagnation…..
Basu remained an idol to the working class and rural peasantry, but in the end became a symbol of the statism which is so despised by today's MBA-brandishing classes. Had he become prime minister in 1996, he might well have restored prestige to that much-damaged office, through his honesty and other old-fashioned virtues. On the other hand, his instinct for hands-on control might have brought India's modern boom to a shuddering halt……”
Gulf Daily News
January 31, 2010
Communism in India
By Jonathan Power
“….. No one epitomised Communist rule more than its long time former leader, Jyoti Basu, who died last week at the age of 96.
…. he knew how to get things done with a firm but non-antagonistic hand. He failed on some key issues but overall his rule was a triumph. In his book the British writer, Geoffrey Morehouse, wrote that he and the poet Tagore were the two people who made Bengal "what it is today".
…. The new government pushed through a democratic land reform that totally changed the face of West Bengal. Landlords were generously compensated and unlike a number of failed land reforms elsewhere the government managed to do the follow up work of settling peasants on their own land and bringing in agricultural advice. Schools and health clinics were introduced into every village. On a visit to one rural area I was amazed to find peasants with sewerage systems, TV and electric fans. It was also a bit mind-boggling to see lonely villages with the hammer-sickle on a red background fluttering from many of the houses.
Meanwhile, the urban industrial areas atrophied. … It is to Basu's credit that he took these forces head-on. In 1985 he pushed through the new economic agenda for the party. Inspired by Deng Xiao Ping's capitalist reforms in China he created state and private sector partnerships. In fact Basu was ahead of practices in the rest of India where in the same year Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi took the first steps to open the country to the free market, multinationals and the latest imported technology. After economic liberalisation was introduced into India in 1991, Basu was among the first to create a new industrial policy………”
National Public Radio – USA
January 17, 2010
India's 'Marxist Patriarch' Dead
By Philip Reeves
“Thousands of people lined the streets of the city of Kolkata on Sunday as a large white hearse, festooned with red flags bearing the hammer and sickle, slowly carried away the man known as India's "Marxist patriarch."
Lying within the hearse, clad in white — and still wearing his owlish spectacles — was the body of Jyoti Basu, one of the country's pre-eminent post-independence leaders, who died in a private hospital at the age of 95…….
Basu's long career encompassed many acquaintances. He personally knew Jawaharlal Nehru, India's founding father; and Nehru's daughter, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1984. He met some of history's best-known communist leaders, including Castro and Brezhnev — and also Ho Chi Minh, after whom Basu and his party comrades named a Kolkata street.
Basu's admirers say that chief among his achievements were the land reforms that were introduced into rural West Bengal in the 1980s, lifting many Bengali peasants out of abject poverty. He is also widely acknowledged to have been a skillful, if brusque, administrator, and an accomplished dealmaker…….…”
The Financial Express – Dhaka, Bangladesh
January 23, 2010
The passing away of a people's icon
By Nerun Yakub
“ ….. Jyoti Basu was a people's icon, a true friend of Bangladesh, during the liberation war and after.
His ancestral home still stands in Sonargaon upazila of Narayanganj, which he had visited a couple of times, gifting it eventually to Bangladesh, to 'do with it whatever the government wishes'---- he was quoted as saying in an interview carried by a contemporary in Dhaka in 2000.
Jyoti Basu's life has been, and will continue to be, truly inspirational for many, even beyond his country's borders, for he had shown what dedication in pro-people politics could achieve. He had won mass adulation and had given communism an honorable face at a time when its ideologues had clearly fallen from grace. ……..
In 1940, he returned to India as a barrister and, to the great consternation of his parents, joined the Communist Party of India, which was then banned by the British rulers. Jyoti Basu could not be dissuaded. His political journey would remain steadfastly on this road, developing, along its ups and downs, as a principled leader who had stood by his ethics throughout his political career.
….. During this long tenure he had brought stability to West Bengal, going to the roots of people's problems and seeking to address them sustainably through land reforms and the Panchayat system, which others in India have been trying to replicate.
Jyoti Basu is understandably deeply loved and revered by the beneficiaries of his reform moves ---- the deprived masses ---- and admired even by his political adversaries at the national level. It was through him that the disparate elements of India's multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-party polity could be brought together in the early 1980s to form a third alternative to the two dominant national parties. One wonders how this 'architect of modern West Bengal' would have fared as Prime Minister ……
The Marxist patriarch had chosen neither cremation nor burial but to continue serving humanity even after his demise. His eyes have been preserved in an eye bank soon after, waiting to give 'jyoti' to a needy-someone without sight. And his body has been handed over to a designated hospital for the cause of medical science after the last official tributes were done with on Tuesday, 19 January 2010.”