A great life (1914-2010)

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:49 pm IST

Published - January 18, 2010 12:02 am IST

Diminutive Jyoti Basu, who outlived most of his contemporaries, was a man of immense political stature, one of India’s most illustrious leaders and statesmen of the past century. His charisma was undisputed and at the mass level, he was certainly the best-known face of communism across the land — transcending the regional limitations of the Left’s base and influence. Reputed for his integrity and straightforwardness, for his clear-sightedness and work ethic, and for his decisiveness in governance, he was a master of civilised — if, at the core, uncompromising — discourse. He was respected and listened to across the political and ideological spectrum on key policy matters, national and international. Mr. Basu’s record as independent India’s longest-serving Chief Minister (June 1977-November 2000), who led the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Left Front to the first five of its seven successive Assembly election triumphs, is unlikely to be bettered for a long time to come. The highlights of his legacy as Chief Minister are land reforms, which benefitted millions of sharecroppers and other peasants and helped consolidate a rural class base that proved quite unbeatable over three decades; the democratisation of panchayati raj institutions; the establishment of the Haldia petro-chemical complex; the creation of an atmosphere of communal harmony and secularism across a large State; and political stability of a new kind. There were significant under-achievements in the fields of education and public health and in terms of industrial development. But Mr. Basu was not one to cover up deficiencies or shortcomings and in the last decade of his life, he spoke candidly about what might have been achieved during his 23 years at the helm — had there been the necessary understanding backed by a concentrated effort.

The foundations for Mr. Basu’s distinction were laid much before he became one of the country’s most important Chief Ministers. An educated and sophisticated man, trained in Britain to be a barrister, he joined the Communist Party when it was illegalised, worked in the trade union movement and in mass organisations, faced state repression, and was schooled in tough struggle before emerging as one of the top leaders of the Communist movement — and after the split, as one of the founding members of the CPI(M)’s nine-member Polit Bureau. A byword for courage and steadfastness, he was also famous for his cool; he brushed off assassination attempts, which brought about no noticeable change in his style of mass politics. Some CPI(M) leaders — most importantly, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, B.T. Ranadive, and M. Basavapunniah — distinguished themselves as exponents and developers of Marxist theory. Some others — most importantly, P. Sundarayya, Promode Dasgupta, and Harkishan Singh Surjeet — contributed specially to party-building and organisational affairs. Mr. Basu’s great strength was in another domain — where theory, vision, polemic, and the ideological characteristics and organisational resources of a revolutionary movement encountered the challenge of working with the masses and winning them over. His genius lay in this immensely difficult interface, where many an ideal, many a leader, and many a political ambition has failed to achieve notable success. CPI(M) general-secretary Prakash Karat was certainly not being hyperbolic when, in his tribute, he singled out Mr. Basu for teaching Communists “how to work and serve the people in parliamentary forums in order to bring about changes in public policy” and declared “there will be none like Jyoti Basu again.” It is indeed the end of a heroic era and The Hindu shares the nation’s grief over this great loss.


The Editorial, "A great life (1914-2010)" while explaining how Jyoti Basu confronted the challenge of working with the masses and winning them over, mentioned, besides Basu, the names of six of the nine members of the first Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The names of two members of the Polit Bureau - P. Ramamurti and A.K. Gopalan (AKG) - were left out.

Ramamurti's contribution was largely in building up a strong trade union movement. He was the first general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). As Member of Parliament, he played a significant role in enacting several labour-related laws.

Freedom fighter and Marxist, AKG, worked in both peasants' and industrial workers' organisations. He also played an active role in Dalit uplift. He led the party in Lok Sabha for over two decades. He headed a march of the unemployed from Cannanore (now Kannur, in Kerala) to Madras (now Chennai).

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