It was People’s Day at the West Bengal Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, as tens of thousands, some elderly and infirm, gathered to catch a last glimpse of their beloved leader and pay a floral tribute. The surge of humanity was beyond expectations, and stretched and tested the crowd-management skills of the senior members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who were managing the situation, and the police force.
Jyoti Basu, the man of the masses, lay in state on a specially erected platform on the western side of Assembly House. He would perhaps have liked it this way. Representatives of the armed forces draped the body with the national tricolour over the party flag as the body arrived. Two members of the armed forces stood nearby all along. They later took charge of the final lap of his last journey.
The crowd waited patiently in a queue that snaked through one of the busiest thoroughfares of the city, stretching up to a kilometre. Some brought wreaths — big and small. Some came with a single rose bud, holding it close to the chest, lest it wilt.
There were some minor incidents too: Kerala Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan took ill, and a stampede was narrowly averted at one of the gates.
When the body was mounted on a gun-carriage by pall-bearers from the armed forces five hours after it was brought to the Assembly at 10-10 a.m., hundreds of men and women, some with children in their arms, were heartbroken as the gates were closed on them since Jyoti Basu had to be taken through the last lap of the procession. Time was running out, and the ceremonial gun-salute to be the country’s longest-serving Chief Minister just had to be completed before sun-down.
The VIP mourners included United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Union Ministers Pranab Mukherjee and S. Jaipal Reddy, Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who brought a delegation, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren.
West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee offered his tributes, followed by Trinamool Congress MLA Partha Chatterjee. L.K. Advani came with a BJP delegation. Prakash Karat and Brinda Karat, and Sitaram Yechury, stayed on all through.
N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, was among the first to lay a wreath.
Pranab Mukherjee and Mr. Bhattacharjee accompanied Ms. Gandhi as she came in. She offered a wreath of white roses and stood silently beside the Marxist veteran’s body for a while. The Congress president later wrote in the condolence book that Comrade Basu was a leader of vision and conviction, idealism and accomplishment, high values and practical realism who served his people, his country and his party with total dedication and selflessness.
Sheikh Hasina, who led a delegation, wrote that Jyoti Basu was a larger-than-life figure whose exceptional contribution during the Bangladesh Liberation War was forever being recalled by the people with gratitude. The Bangladesh team included the Chairman of the Bangladesh Communist Party and a leader of the Workers’ Party.
There was a sizable presence from academia and the consular corps. From the corporate sector, ITC chief Y.C. Deveshwar and Coal India chairman P.S. Bhattacharyya were notable.
Monks from the Ramakrishna Mission offered their homage.
However, it is the common person who took centre-stage. They came singly with modest offerings of a garland of marigold or a fistful of petals. They came in groups representing associations affiliated to the CPI(M), carrying a flower-bedecked gigantic party insignias, which were placed with some difficulty beside the body. And their cries of Jyoti Basu Amar Rahe, Jyoti Basu Laal Salaam, rent the air.
Jyoti Basu’s son Chandan Basu and his family members stood beside the body during the most part. His grand-daughters were weeping inconsolably.