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Jyoti Basu: Marxist politician who combined realpolitik and revolutionary ideas

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IndianaGreen Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-25-10 07:11 PM
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Jyoti Basu: Marxist politician who combined realpolitik and revolutionary ideas
Jyoti Basu: Marxist politician who combined realpolitik and revolutionary ideas

Monday, 25 January 2010

Jyoti Basu, who has died aged 95, was a staunch Marxist and a towering figure in Indian politics for six eventful decades. In 1997, he came close to becoming the county's first Communist Prime Minister. But the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo decided against participating in the United Front government, a decision Basu later described as an "historic blunder". Others felt it was a manifestation of the insecurities of the Indian Left typical since the fall of the Soviet Union. In the end, H.D. Deve Gowda, of the Janta Dal party, became the premier.

Basu's name was a byword for intellectual, political and personal integrity, as well as for a straightforward but cool and imperturbable style. He was born into a middle-class Bengali family in Kolkata, then Calcutta, in July 1914. His father, Nisikanta, was a physician, his mother, Hemlata, a housewife. After attending St Xavier's Collegiate School and graduating in English from Presidency College in Calcutta, he travelled to London in 1935 to study law. While in England he was initiated to Marxism, coming into contact with Harry Pollitt, Ben Bradley, Rajani Palme Dutt and other leading lights of the Community Party of Great Britain. He joined the Indian League, London and the Federation of Indian Students in Great Britain and was elected as secretary of the London Majlis, an Islamic organisation, in 1937.

He returned to Calcutta as a barrister in 1940, joining the Communist Party of India (CPI) and marrying Basanti Ghosh, who died in 1942 (his second wife Kamala, who he married in 1948, died four years ago). In 1946 he was elected to Bengal's Legislative Assembly and was secretary of the West Bengal Provincial Committee of the CPI from 1952 to 1957. When the old CPI split in 1964, he was the kingpin of the new Communist Party of India (Marxist). He served as deputy chief minister of West Bengal in 1967 and 1969 in the United Front government; from June 1977 to November 2000 he was the chief minister for an unprecedented five terms for the Left Front government.

An astringent, unsmiling comrade, always clad in white "dhoti" and "kurta", he had many revolutionary ideas, many of which he realised when he was in power. He made a profound, long-term difference to the large, populous and strategically important state of West Bengal that was always his first priority. He implemented basic land reform, establishing India's first comprehensive system of democratic decentralisation and extended rural electrification and irrigation. Agricultural production came out of the slump in which it had been for decades before the Left Front came to power. In the 1980s and 1990s the state showed the highest rates of agricultural growth among the 17 most populous Indian states. As a consequence of the institutional changes and agricultural growth, nutrition levels improved and rural poverty declined noticeably.

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