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Prakash Ambedkar, a former MP and grandson of B R Ambedkar, is emerging as the top pick of Left parties for the presidenti
BJP Kerala unit president Kummanam Rajasekharan's ride with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the launch of the Kochi Me
A three-member BJP panel set up to consult political parties on selecting a consensus candidate for the upcoming president
Controversy is brewing over a magazine brought out by pro-CPI(M) students union of a government college at nearby Thalasse
A day after CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury was heckled at the AKG Bhawan in Delhi, activists of the Democratic Y
Ruling LDF and opposition UDF in Kerala joined hands in the assembly today to resist the Centre's ban on sale of cattle fo
With the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) general secretary Sitaram Yechury getting heckled by the Hindu Sena acti
High drama was witnessed at CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury's press conference, where two Hindu Sena activists w
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) on Friday suspended its parliament member Ritabrata Banerjee over complaints about
BJP Kerala chief Kummanam Rajasekharan today said a video posted by him of CPI(M) workers purportedly celebrating the kill
After Subhas Chandra Bose, Jyoti Basu was the next idol the Bengali masses created and clung to. The chemistry at work was almost inexplicable, for Jyoti Basu was by nature a shy and reserved individual. That apart, despite his fame as a spellbinding speaker, he abhorred histrionics; his voice never deviated from the normal pitch, the electric current nonetheless hurtled across in waves and a bond got instantly established between the person on the podium and the assembled dishevelled rows of humanity. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Left Front owe an immense deal to this inexplicable phenomenon.
While most obituary writers recognised Jyoti Basu's biggest contribution to be the land reforms and agrarian rights for sharecroppers that he helped usher in via Operation Barga in the early years of his tenure, there were also many controversies that dogged India's longest serving chief minister. Swapan Dasgupta, after characteristically saying, "If you seek his monument, look around," elaborated:
Initially, the party went in for radical land reforms and decentralisation of power to consolidate its hold in the countryside. But after five years, this strategy had run its course—though the political dividends keep flowing to this day. When it came to the revival of manufacturing and the creation of a new services sector, the Chief Minister found himself outvoted inside the party. His government adopted measures such as the abolition of English teaching till class 5 and the politicisation of institutions which set West Bengal behind by decades. Trade union militancy and crippling power cuts led to the decimation of small and medium industry. To the investing classes, Bengal became a big no-no. Its efficiency was limited to the organisation of bandhs.
...He inherited a crumbling edifice and bequeathed a similar structure to his predecessor. He merely prevented the roof from caving in.
He had a reputation among reporters, as Monobina Gupta recalls, for his "exasperatingly short, brusque replies, sometimes even with outright sarcasm or rudeness". Which is why, it was wonderful to also be reminded about about the warm, human side of the man many people accused of being aloof: Barun Ghosh on How Basu saved my job in Telegraph.
Some other articles of note:
Saubhik Chakrabarti in the Indian Express appraises Basu's failures and puts his tenure in perspective:
Basu’s many obit writers, irrespective of their politics, refer to him as a tall and visionary leader who often seemed bigger than the party. CPM’s Vajpayee, as it were.
Here’s the third surprise: Basu was actually CPM’s Advani. He had personality by the spades. But like Advani, Basu couldn’t rise above the party. He didn’t even try. He was very much a part of the party’s political think tank that downgraded real welfare provisioning. He never seemed to recognise the limitations of the CPM-is-Bengal/Bengal-is-CPM mantra. Indeed, he was its showpiece.
Jyoti Basu could have reworked the Bengal CPM model. He had the political heft to do it. The final surprise: he never saw the need.
Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in the Telegraph:
Given Indian class consciousness, villagers and the party’s rank and file were awed by his aloof manner and unseeing, hooded gaze. He seemed born to rule. Westerners, especially the British, loved his unsmiling visage and clipped, monosyllabic replies. Society women swooned over his gallantry. One who wanted her whiskey small at a cocktail party was very taken when Basu intervened, “Don’t worry, they serve it in homeopathic doses in this house!” Such repartee was not expected from an austere Marxist whose government was identified with radical social and economic measures
...He was too sophisticated to discuss land concessions, contracts, loans and licences at social occasions; but they soldered the bond that gave rise to the “Communist Party of India (Marwari)” joke about the CPI(M).
...He sanctioned or turned a blind eye to criminally harsh repression and the use of agents provocateurs. He chose to condone police brutality, often making light of the atrocities reported in the newspaper I edited. “Editor-sahib sees torture everywhere!” he once joked. When I defended my reporter’s eye-witness account he replied that he had asked the police commissioner, who had denied the story. Naturally, the police commissioner would deny a report that indicted his men. Similarly, Basu did little or nothing to prevent the CPI(M) and its allies from sponsoring illegal immigration from Bangladesh. He railed against the Anandabazar group at our last meeting, saying they invented stories about him.
Aditya Nigam in Kafila:
Basu was neither Bonaparte nor Caesar. He was certainly not a ‘heroic’ personality, and not by any means a demagogue. His political appeal came from his ‘ordinariness’. His political speeches in rallies at the Brigade Parade ground, were delivered in simple conversational style, almost sounding like one-to-one conversations. No fire-spouting rhetoric; no big words whose meaning only the converted can understand.
...Many have labelled this style ‘pragmatic’ – a euphemism for the somewhat more uncharitable term ‘opportunist’. That is to say, uncluttered by ‘ideology’. This diagnosis is, interestingly, shared by many. In the eyes of liberals, ‘ideology’ refers to doctrinairism and is essentially negative, whereas to many Marxists, it refers to purity. But for both, Basu’s style of doing politics shuns ideology. In our reckoning, both these readings are completely off the mark. Basu’s politics was certainly uncluttered by ideology but in another sense: there was nothing pre-determined about his responses. It was as if one was ‘thrown’ into a political context where all had to fall back upon was one’s political instincts.
Gopal Krishna Gandhi in the Telegraph:
It was in London, where I was working as director of The Nehru Centre, that I had got to know Jyotibabu. The year was 1993. The Nehru Centre had organized a commemoration of the 200th year of Cornwallis’s Permanent Settlement. Jyotibabu was the chief speaker. His head buried in the text, he read in an unfluctuating timbre and tone from a prepared script. And as he progressed from page to page of the closely typed document I could see many in the audience ‘switching off’. Jyotibabu, too, seemed to realize this for he suddenly stopped midway and, looking up through his spectacles, said, “You can see I am reading this out. It has been written for me by an expert who knows all these things. I do not know all this myself. I am also learning as I read this. You see, for most of my life I have been among the people, with little time to read or study….” The audience burst into applause in appreciation of the candour of this man who had shaped history, while most of the listeners had only read history and some had written on aspects of it.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express:
Sometimes the true measure of a man is precisely the sense of regret over all that he could have achieved. Many analogies will be used to describe Jyoti Basu. But with the benefit of hindsight he reminds one more of tragic Rajput princes more than anyone else. These are people who built incredible political citadels, often at great personal sacrifice. They were even able to make them impregnable, and often worked with a sense that they were making history. The whirl of events, in the world at large, did not defeat them. But it did render them progressively more on the wrong side of history.
Basu built a magnificent political citadel against two enemies: the Congress centralism of Delhi and the horrendous exploitation of share croppers in Bengal. But while this was enough to keep his party secure in power, it was not enough to prepare his people for the whirlwind changes that India and the world have experienced. But it is a measure of his personal greatness that his contributions to Indian democracy will long survive debates over his ideological fidelity to communism. Some will regret that he was not more Maoist, more ruthless; others will regret that he was not Deng, more thoroughly pragmatist about development. But Indian democracy will be grateful that he remained Jyoti Basu: someone who knew how to consolidate real power, but who did not let it go to his head.
I think Right and Left have always been a very inadequate description even of political activity.There is a lovely story about PC Joshi too. More here
...The right wing and the left wing, as many will know, were descriptions first defined by the way members sat in the French National Assembly of 1789-91: the nobles in the wing to the right, the common people to the left, of the president of the Assembly. In course of time, as parliamentary democracy unfolded, the left wing came to be referred to as “a group or party favouring radical, reforming or socialist views”, as the Oxford Dictionary succinctly tried to put it...
...But from all I can surmise from a distance, for many among the intelligentsia, the bonding with manush (human being), to use the more modern term for Tagore’s janagana (people), has not been lost.
I cannot make out how exactly today’s manush, in turn, relates to Calcutta’s intelligentsia. But one can see how the state’s political apparatchiki can take on the teachers, the doctors, the poets, the artists on the assumption that connections between such people and Manush have simply vanished.
...the Right-Left dichotomy is old and difficult to dislodge — but why not redefine Right and Wrong from the standpoint of social justice and responsibility, and in that light redefine Crime and Punishment in the Indian Penal Code? That may yet set the cat among the pigeons — of all colours.
Rudrangshu Mukherjee in the Telegraph:
In 1964, when the CPI split and the CPI(M) was born, the latter, at least in West Bengal, got the giant share of the party’s resources save the intellectual ones. The intellectual cream remained with the CPI. The CPI(M) was born under the sign of mediocrity. Its leadership promoted anti-intellectualism and the cult of mediocrity. This, it was assumed, would bring the CPI(M) closer to the people. Promode Dasgupta, the redoubtable head of the party apparatus in West Bengal, was the driving force behind this kind of thinking. Under his successor, Anil Biswas, this tendency was aggravated. Biswas personally controlled educational institutions and intellectual organizations. This brand of nepotism alienated real talent. Many came under the flag of the CPI(M) lured by the loaves and fishes of office, but numbers did not make for quality. The moral and intellectual high ground that communists had once enjoyed in West Bengal gradually came to be eroded. Today, the CPI(M) stares at a moral and intellectual vacuum....
...The transformation of society will never occur through the brutal use of State power and the deployment of terror through cadre. It demands a more sensitive handling by a leadership that is confident enough to be broadminded and open.
Read the full piece: Cult of Mediocrity. And staying with West Bengal, MJ Akbar has a word of caution:
Nature, and political nature, abhors a vacuum. The space vacated by the CPI(M) retreat is being visibly occupied: those who vote are with Mamata Banerjee; those who don't vote in rural Bengal are gravitating around the Maoists...Read the full piece: West Bengal: Next time, the volcano
...It would also be unwise to forget the game-changer of the 1960s, the riots. Violence is an infectious plague, and demographic tensions always have a fuse in the tail. Bengalis believe that they are not communal. No one is communal, except in that brief moment of madness when the civilized mind crumbles.
The drama of Bengal is full of actors making powerful speeches. We need a plot, very quickly.
Lalita Panicker in The Hindustan Times:
The communal vs secular issue has never been far from the surface, though today the CPM has forced the issue into the open. No, not by putting communal forces in their place but by joining hands with rabid parties like the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by the incendiary Abdul Nasser Madani, believed to be prime mover of the Coimbatore bomb blasts. How does the CPM, notably the faction led by state chief Pinarayi Vijayan, explain how he has cosied up to the likes of Madani when the chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan has openly come out against this?
While Congress claims that BJP has plagiarised 70% of its manifesto, the BJP says their manifesto is like the RBI promise on a currency note. The Hindustan Times today carried a useful comparison. Interesting, actually, to see the numbers matching exactly for the BJP and CPM (Agricultural loans at 4%, 6% of GDP on education...)
Courtesy The Hindustan Times