My mentor

Published : Feb 12, 2010 00:00 IST

With Mulayam Singh Yadav in New Delhi in May 1996.-S. ARNEJA

With Mulayam Singh Yadav in New Delhi in May 1996.-S. ARNEJA

It is important for us to keep his record in mind and try and emulate him.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, Samajwadi Party president.

JYOTI BASU was an icon that I looked up to right from the early days of my political activity. There was considerable presence of the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) in my home district of Etawah and in the adjacent areas of Kanpur and Firozabad in the 1950s and early 1960s. Interaction between activists of the CPI and the Socialist Party was a regular thing those days, though the parties represented nuanced shades of leftist ideology.

I became a member of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in 1967. The name of Jyoti Basu used to come up during electoral campaigns. He was described as a fiery leader who was winning elections repeatedly from 1946. All young political activists, including myself, cherished such repeated victories, and thus the image of Jyoti Basu got imprinted in my psyche.

In the next two decades, I had the occasion to see him from a distance and interact fleetingly at some common meetings, but we really met and became close associates only in 1987, when the Left, centrist and regional parties opposed to the Congress launched a movement against the authoritarian tendencies of the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government. A huge rally was planned in Lucknow and I was its prime organiser. Jyoti Basu was naturally the major leader of that movement and also the main speaker.

The way I organised the meeting must have impressed him. He took a liking to me and from that day onwards we became close political associates. Along with Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the late general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Jyoti Basu virtually became my mentor and that of my party. We had got together on an anti-Congress platform, but over the years, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we cooperated more and more on opposing the communal Hindutva forces led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its cohorts in the Sangh Parivar. The trust that the three of us had in each other was total and unreserved.

It was this trust that made me suggest the name of Jyoti Basu for prime ministership after the 1996 Lok Sabha elections. Many think that it was former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh who suggested Jyoti Basus name first, but it was actually I who did it. I too had got elected to the Lok Sabha in that election and the way things were going politically, I was convinced that no other leader could lead the country. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and to this day I think that the country lost a great opportunity to chart a totally different, progressive path in its history.

I am sure the situation of the country would have been much better if Jyoti Basu had been allowed by his party to take up the job offered by the United Front in 1996. Basu would have set an example for others to follow. He had admirable guts and fighting spirit. Had Jyoti Basu been the Prime Minister those succeeding him would have been more mindful of the chair and it would have raised the prestige of the chair. I firmly feel that he would have seen to it that the country was free from one of the biggest threats it faces now, that of Maoist extremism, if he had led the country then. That has not happened, but it is important for all of us to keep his record in mind and try and emulate him in whatever way possible.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan
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