Extraordinary Chief Minister-Mani Shankar Aiyar

Well before the next Assembly elections in West Bengal, Shri Jyoti Basu would have remained Chief Minister for longer than Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister of India. And even as the Nehru legacy continues to dominate our nat'ionallife decades after Panditji's departure from the scene, so I am sure, will Jyoti Basu's legacy continue to dominate political life in West Bengal for many decades to come.

He has wrought a revolution in the country-side. His land reforms have given real opportunity to the tiller. The deep roots given to Panchayati Raj have, indeed, ensured that, even in contemporary times, "what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow " Rajiv Gandhi was most generous in his praise of the contribution made by the West Bengal experience in Panchayati Raj to the evolution of his own ideas on the subject. The CPI(M) has been less than generous to him in return, but that does not detract from the importance which Rajivji .attached to India as a whole imbibing the more important lessons of the West Bengal revolution in the country side.

Urban West Bengal, on the other hand, has been the victim of precipitous decline through most of Jyoti Babu's Chief Ministership. The encouragement given to irrespon­sible trade unionism and the somewhat callous neglect of urban renewal have been responsible for this. But a U-turn in attitudes towards industrialisation and moder­nisation is now under way and, perhaps, urban West Bengal will now find new light at the end of the tunnel.

Although ideological and political differences have long divided Comrade Jyoti Basu from the Congress to which I belong, the fact is that at both the personal level and in the larger interests of the nation, there has been much inter-action between the political forces led by Jyoti Babu and the Congress Party. It was in England that Jyoti Babu first met Smt. Indira Gandhi. It laid the foundations of a personal friendship that stretched through political differences right till the end of Smt. Gandhi's presence in our midst. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi mounted what was perhaps the most serious challenge to Jyoti Babu's leadership of West Bengal in the State Assembly elections of 1987.

 I had the privilege of accompanying Rajivji on every one of his forays into Jyoti Babu's citadel. Rajivji asked for no quarter, and gave none. It was probably the most sustained assault ever on the principles, policies and programmes of the Left Front. So hard hitting was the campaign that the political attack on the West Bengal leader was sometimes conveyed to him as & thinly veiled personal attack. When, after the elections were over (with Jyoti Babu winning handsomely once again), it was brought to Rajiv Gandhi's attention that Jyoti Babu might have been personally hurt by some of his remarks, gentleman that he was, Rajiv Gandhi immediately talked to Jyoti Babu to make amends.

Gentleman that he was, Comrade Jyoti Babu promptly assured him that no offence had been made or taken. Truly, a Gentleman and a Comrade 1 Jyoti Babu's contribution to West Bengal and stature in the country notwithstanding, I, as a Congressman, will join my Party in continuing to struggle against the CPI(M) both in West Bengal and in the country at large. But, while finding the chinks in his armour, I shall continue to remind myself that only a knight can wear an armour and that; therefore, it can be said of Jyoti Babu, as Gandhiji said of Panditji, that he is a knight sans peur, sans reproche.