Jyoti Basu – poster boy of Indian communism
When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rushed to Kolkata on Thursday just to pay a 22-minute visit to the hospital where 95-year-old Jyoti Basu is battling for life, the trip spoke volumes about the communist patriarch’s relevance in Indian politics.
India’s longest serving chief minister is on ventilator support but the throngs of teary-eyed followers outside the hospital, the 24×7 mediapersons camping outside and the steady stream of political dignitaries indicate the respect Basu commands across the political spectrum.
The Prime Minister offered to fly in experts from anywhere in India to treat Basu.
A day later, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda also visited the ailing leader in Kolkata.
“I remember what Jyoti Basu has sacrificed. He made me the prime minister of this country,” Gowda told reporters recalling the political stalemate in 1996.
In May 1996, Basu, then firmly in the saddle as the longest serving chief minister of West Bengal, was on the verge of becoming India’s first communist prime minister as a consensus choice amid political chicanery.
The United Front government, comprising the Left Front and the National Front, wanted him as its leader, but Basu’s own party puritans would not allow him to accept the post.
Thus, India missed its first communist prime minister.
Basu himself had later dubbed the episode as a “historic blunder” and referred to it in a biography by Surabhi Banerjee.
“I was constantly being coaxed into accepting the key post. I was simply waiting for the party’s stand now. I was inclined to accept the onerous but unanimous offer for the credibility of the Third Front and secondly for solving the stalemate.”
In November 2000, Basu voluntarily stepped down as the chief minister of West Bengal, paving the way for his deputy Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to take over.
Basu, even in reclusion forced by failing health, remains the poster boy of Indian communism. Till recently he was a crowd-puller in election campaigns.
The anxiety of his followers, the tears, the flurry of media activities outside the hospital and the air-dashing political royalty, mainly those from rival political outfits, vouch for it.