The spirit of democracy and the great experiment of democratic decentralisation through the panchayati raj system is “under a severe and vicious attack” in West Bengal, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Prakash Karat said here on Monday.

“We are in the midst of a panchayat election, an election that was sought to be scuttled and sabotaged by the powers that today are ruling West Bengal,” he said at a memorial meeting to mark the launch of the birth centenary celebrations of the former Chief Minister and veteran Communist leader Jyoti Basu.

The people, the Left Front and all the democratic forces in the State will defend the legacy of Basu, who made the “greatest contribution to the deepening of democracy in the country… They will fight back all these anti-democratic onslaughts that have been launched over the past two years in the State,” Mr. Karat said.

West Bengal blazed a new trail in democratic decentralisation under the leadership of Basu through a panchayati raj syststem institutionalised much before the 73 and 74 amendments of the Constitution, he said.

“If you look back at the career of Basu, there is no other leader… irrespective of political party who has shown such a capacity, vision and determination to show that Indian remains and will be a democratic, federal and secular country,” he pointed out.

Describing Basu as a leader who knew how to work in Parliamentary fora, Mr. Karat said he showed how a Communist Party should integrate work in the Parliamentary forum with the rest of the country.

“The birth centenary of Basu should not be just an occasion for us to commemorate and pay tribute to his glorious life,” he said. It would be more meaningful to utilise year-long observance of the leader’s birth centenary to spread the ideas he stood for, he suggested.

 “Whether it is a question of defence of democracy, defence of secularism, defence of working people all contributing to a social transformation that will make India a more equitable and just society, this is what comrade Basu stood for,” Mr. Karat said.

  He added that there would be a centenary campaign by the party to spread the leader’s message to the people.