Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Jyoti Basu's Death, End of an Era
Jyoti Basu’s demise has brought politicians of all hues together in agreement that India has lost a great leader with Basu walking into sunset. To cynics the reaction would have come as a customary PR exercise politicians do upon the death of a leader, but people familiar with Bengal politics would know better.
With Mamta Banerjee inching closer to Chief Ministership, I don’t know how long the Communist government will be able to continue its stint in power unbroken since 1977, but Basu will always be remembered as being among the founders of Communist rule in Bengal and also parts of India.
Though the Communist party came to power in Bengal with Jyoti Basu as Chief Minister after the Emergency got over, the Communist movement had found its footing in the state long before the Emergency was imposed. The Communist party - which had boycotted elections before the Emergency to protest rigging of elections by the Congress and majority of whose leaders including Basu were underground during the Emergency - came to power with a thumping victory after the Emergency was withdrawn in 1977.
When I was a kid growing up in Calcutta, we used to blame Basu for everything: frequent powercuts, potholed roads, a rigid educational system, etc. I think it was so because Basu had become the face of Bengal - good or bad - and there was no political alternative. Mamta Banerji changed the situation later.
During the mid 90s, when Basu’s 23-year-long Chief Ministership was coming to an end (he stepped down in 2000), I got interested in current affairs and started forming an informed world view. And my views about Basu and his Bengal started to change.
I understood Basu’s Bengal had among the highest literacy rates in India; that it didn’t have any communal tensions and political outfits feeding on regional chauvinism like MNS (Ramachandra Guha has recently praised how during 1984 riots Basu ensured that the Sikhs in Bengal weren’t persecuted); and that development is not only about glamorous IT industry (although IT is very important and Calcutta has some big names now), it's also about inclusive growth.
I also came to know Basu wasn’t the stubborn ideologue I knew him to be. He went to the US (Left's ideological foe) to attract investments for the state, braving alienation within the party. Last year, when the Left was threatening the UPA about withdrawal of support if the latter went ahead with the nuclear deal with the US, Basu had said a withdrawal of support would only unite the opposition. The Left was trounced in the elections that followed.
Later in his life, after his Chief Ministership was long over, he understood tradeunionism, which was a creation of the Left, had kept industrial development away from Bengal - and admitted that. But it was too late by then.
When Basu got admitted in hospital few weeks back, the papers reminded me that Basu would have become India's Prime Minister in 1996 had his party not pulled out from government formation. Later, Basu had called the party’s decision a historical blunder.
I hope my analysis of Jyoti Basu was not an emotional one. Even if it was, you can’t blame me: Basu was a politician I grew up knowing, like any other guy who grew up in Bengal.