Kolkata, July 8: By his own admission, Communists don't celebrate their birthdays. But ailing former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu was overwhelmed by the huge number of people who turned up to wish him on his 96th birthday Wednesday.
Hundreds of schoolchildren greeted the Marxist patriarch. Admirers from all various walks of life, including his Communist Party of India-CPI(M) comrades and their rivals, assembled outside Indira Bhavan, the Salt Lake residence of Basu.
"I am not well. I've become bedridden nowadays. But I welcome all of you who have come here to greet me on my birthday," Basu said in a frail and halting voice.
"I think all of you, who have come over here, are well wishers of the state. You want the state to prosper. I am with you," Basu said.
"I can't even walk properly but as so many people have come here, I decided to spend some time with you all," the communist poster boy said. "We (Communists) generally don't celebrate our birthdays, but it is the love and affection of the common people that made me participate in the programme."
The day was celebrated with songs, dances and speeches by eminent people. Boys and girls came with balloons and flowers, and a red bouquet with '96' written on it was handed over to Basu, who watched the function from his balcony.
Senior CPI(M) leader and state Transport Minister Subhas Chakraborty, former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee and state Fisheries Minister Kiranmoy Nanda were also present.
"The Communist movement was developed brick by brick in our state under his (Basu) able leadership. Give us strength so that we can present your ideology to our young generation," Chakraborty said in an emotion-choked voice.
"The people of West Bengal will never betray you and they'll not reject the path you have shown to them."
Born July 8, 1914, in Kolkata to a wealthy family, Basu took to Communism in London. On his return to India, he joined the the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) and plunged into the Left movement.
Chatterjee said: "I am fortunate enough to have worked under him. I have walked by his side... Learnt from him. I have worked as per his directives. This huge gathering proves the respect he commands from the masses."
West Bengal Leftfront chairman and CPI(M) state secretary Biman Basu visited Basu at his residence on Wednesday evening to wish him.
Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, chief of CPI(M)'s biter rival Trinamool Congress, sent West Bengal assembly opposition leader Partha Chattopadhyay to Basu's residence.
"He is a very senior leader. I went to his residence on his birthday last year. But this year I could not be present there as parliament session is on. Basu himself wants that I visit him on this precious day," she told reporters in New Delhi.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee also called up Basu to wish him.
Several newspapers came out with special supplements while many television channels beamed special programmes on his birthday.
Basu made his debut in electoral politics in 1946. He was elected to the state assembly 11 times, losing only once -- in the hugely controversial 1972 elections.
After the CPI split in 1964, he joined the CPI(M) and was elected to its central committee and politburo.
He was West Bengal chief minister from 1977 until he retired in late 2000 due to ill-health.
The Hindu, July 9, 2009
Addresses gathering at sombre yet spirited birthday event at his home
KOLKATA: “To those well-wishers of West Bengal who want development and prosperity for the State, I’m with you,” veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu, 95, said here on the occasion of his birthday on Wednesday, clearly pitching for the future of the State of which he was Chief Minister from 1977 to 2000. He was born on July 8, 1914.
Addressing a gathering at his Salt Lake residence, the frail-looking but cheerful nonagenarian said it was his wish that the State develop and its people prosper.
He did not mount a podium that was erected outside and chose to address the gathering from the foyer.
“We usually don’t observe birthdays, but since it’s the will of so many people, I usually come here for a few minutes. This year I’m unwell and bedridden, but I’m very pleased to see you all. I welcome all of you,” he said in a voice that was just about audible but retained the steely spirit of a political patriarch.
‘Pather Panchali,’ the non-governmental organisation that has organised his birthday events year after year, announced this time that it would distribute for the Cyclone Aila-affected children textbooks for Class 9 to 12, and notebooks imprinted with Mr. Basu’s picture.
Mr. Basu’s frail health made the occasion an essentially sombre one. Both Transport Minister Subhash Chakraborty and the former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, spoke on the occasion in a quivering voice. “We want him to be with us for many more years,” said Mr. Chatterjee. “I’ve travelled within the country and elsewhere, but seldom have I come across a leader who is so well-loved by the people.”
“He’s the one person who can uphold the Communist movement,” said Mr. Chakraborty. Expressing the hope that the slippages witnessed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the recent elections in the State would not mean that West Bengal had strayed from Communist ideals, he said: “The trust of the people shall never be betrayed.”
A number of Left Front leaders including Fire and Emergency Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee, senior Forward Bloc leader Ashok Ghosh and Kolkata Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya were present.
Children from a number of city schools joined in. Some of them dressed as traditional ‘chhau’ dancers stepped daintily to drumbeats. Others formed a float showing a Chinese dragon, while more of them lined up with balloons — a balloon for every year Mr. Basu’s eventful life.
On behalf of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, the Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly, Partha Chatterjee, visited Mr. Basu later in the day. “Mamata Banerjee is in New Delhi for the railway budget, but she has conveyed her wishes for his long life,” Mr. Chatterjee said.
Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee called up on the phone to wish him long life. Mr. Basu personally thanked Mr. Mukherjee for having found the time to call him. Left Front Committee chairman Biman Bose spent about 30 minutes with Mr. Basu. Other visitors included yesteryear actors including Madhabi Mukherjee. Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi had come on Tuesday to convey his best wishes.
Through the day on Wednesday, scores of visitors came in to wish the veteran. Several Kolkata newspapers brought out supplements to mark the day, and television channels ran repeats of his interview recordings and clippings of a documentary made on Mr. Basu by award-winning director Gautam Ghosh.
Mr. Basu, who perhaps for the first time did not cast his vote this time due to poor health, had expressed his regret at not being able to campaign for the party. In April 2008, he was unable to attend the Coimbatore Party Congress due to failing health.