A life of struggle and unprecedented political success; integrity and commitment all the way

Jyoti Basu, veteran Marxist leader and one of the tallest figures in the country’s political life, died of septicaemia due to pneumonia that led to multi-organ failure, here on Sunday. He was 95 and is survived by his son and three grandchildren.

After battling for life in a private hospital over the past 17 days, he passed away at 11.47 a.m.

Chairman of the Left Front Committee in the State and Secretary of the West Bengal State Committee of the CPI(M), Biman Bose, announced the passing away of Mr. Basu shortly after noon. “I have come to give you sad news. Jyoti Basu is no more with us. He has left us. I cannot speak any more,” he told journalists outside the hospital.

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who was here, described Mr. Basu as “a colossus who strode India’s political scene for many decades,” adding: “He was a great democrat, a great parliamentarian and a great source of inspiration…It is a sad day for all of us.”

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau member and MP Brinda Karat and Somnath Chatterjee, former Lok Sabha Speaker, were present at the hospital.

His body was taken to Peace Haven, a funeral parlour, via the residence of his son, Chandan Bose, and Indira Bhavan in Salt Lake where Mr. Basu lived in the later phase of his life.

Mr. Basu was India’s pre-eminent Communist leader, and one of post-independence India’s greatest and most respected mass political leaders. He was the last of the nine founding Polit Bureau members and India’s longest-serving Chief Minister.

Mr. Basu was a man of immense charisma, and one whose faith in the people was unflinching. He lived a full life, characterised by struggle and by successes in government that few other political leaders in India have been able to match. He was immaculate in dress and bearing, a person of extraordinary personal discipline, and, well into his 80s, known for the briskness of his stride, and for consistently outpacing the security guards who accompanied him.

A byword for intellectual, political and personal integrity and for a straightforward, self-assured and imperturbable style in politics, Mr. Basu made a profound, long-term difference to the large, populous and strategically important State that was his first priority and commanded his best efforts. As has been widely noted, his enduring legacy as Chief Minister of West Bengal between 1977 and 2000 includes land reforms, accountable governance, functioning panchayat institutions, and the creation of a stable atmosphere of communal harmony and secularism.

However, those who remember him chiefly as India’s longest-serving Chief Minister are likely to underestimate his long experience in the crucible of struggle: as a trade union organiser, as a popular agitator, and as a revolutionary fighter – starting, as was typical for his generation, as a freedom fighter and courageously facing and overcoming state-sponsored repression and intolerance in independent India as well. They are likely also to underestimate the inner resources of one of the most attractive and gifted mass political leaders that India, or indeed any country, has seen over the past half century.

Mr. Basu was the chief architect of the Left Front in West Bengal, and he repeatedly said that it was to “the conscious, struggling people” of the State that credit went for making it possible for the Left Front to win seven successive Assembly elections. Being elected for a five-year term seven times in succession was “not only an achievement without precedent in India,” he noted matter-of-factly, “but also in the history of parliamentary democracy in the world.”

Never one to despair over fluctuating political fortunes, he observed that the recent electoral setbacks suffered by the Left in West Bengal were because “we could not take our message properly to the people.” He added: “Besides, in certain areas we made mistakes.”

In an interview to Bengali daily Ganashakti a month after the results of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls were announced, Mr. Basu reiterated his faith in the people. “It is the people who determine the course of history,” he said, adding that there “can be some who misunderstand [us] temporarily, but if we keep going to the people repeatedly and make ourselves worthy of their love, they will most certainly understand us. We will have to again draw to our side those who opposed us in the last panchayat and Lok Sabha elections.”