When legends met

Print edition : February 12, 2010

Jyoti Basu and Pramode Dasgupta, another CPI(M) stalwart, receiving Fidel Castro when he arrived in Kolkata in September 1973.-SATYA SEN Jyoti Basu and Pramode Dasgupta, another CPI(M) stalwart, receiving Fidel Castro when he arrived in Kolkata in September 1973.

IT has been a month of sad waiting, because as we started receiving the news of his last struggle to keep alive, we understood the end was near. But indeed, a new circle of life has started as Jyoti Basu has entered the pantheon of great leaders whose legacies do not allow them to die.

Cuba has had the privilege to be a permanent source of inspiration for him and a daily banner of struggle that he bore against unjust causes and, particularly, against the United States policies of aggression against Cuba all these years. It would be appropriate at this time to quote some of his words on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution:

For the last 50 years, Cuba remains to be a courageous outpost in the western hemisphere.

The social system in Cuba has been maintaining its outstanding record in social sector, in fighting poverty, literacy and unemployment. The 11 million people of Cuba have achieved the spectacular success in all sectors of social, economic and cultural fields because of high level of consciousness and solid unity among the people who have withstood all the criminal blockades, threats and blandishments of the United States. Against this criminal and illegal blockade in Cuba, the United Nations had adopted a series of resolutions supported overwhelmingly by the world community.

In spite of the awful blockade and the horrendous conspiracy of the USA, socialism in Cuba is continuously marching forward. Cuba, the valiant fighter not only for the Cuban people but for the people of all Third World countries, is a beacon light for the people around the world who are facing impoverishment, suffering and loss of livelihood.

Those ties go well back in time, and we feel proud to say that somehow his closeness and affection to the Cuban Revolution and its leaders have been part of the nurturing process of this great stalwart of India.

Those like me who are old enough still remember with emotion when in September 1973 Jyoti Basu welcomed President Fidel Castro in Calcutta. He was just a political leader of the CPI(M) in West Bengal and still it would take four more years for him to become the Chief Minister of the State that he led uninterruptedly for 23 years.

The picture of that encounter has now become very famous and it was part of a very relevant photo exhibition, organised on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of Fidels visit to Calcutta, which highlighted the spontaneous outburst of sympathy towards the Cuban leader that flooded the Dum Dum airport.

We also remember with great appreciation Jyoti Basus personal contribution to Cuba in our years of hardships in the 1990s, when, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the socialist countries in Europe, our nation faced the worst economic difficulties of our recent history.

Jyoti Basu, together with other great leaders of India, like [Harkishan Singh] Surjeet, embarked upon the task of helping Cuba and carried out a campaign in 1992 to send a ship to Cuba with rice and wheat, which Fidel later named as the bread from India.

In those years, when many around the world were thinking and some even were betting on the disappearance of the Cuban Revolution, Jyoti Basu visited Havana in September 1993, exactly 20 years after Castros visit to Calcutta, to convey his moral and political support to the Cuban Revolution.

During that visit, he had the opportunity to have long conversations for almost two hours with Fidel Castro, who, while explaining the impact of the fall of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp, indicated the conviction that the Revolution would last and overcome the difficulties, because the whole nation was rallied around a battle cry: Socialism or Death. As an indication of his affection and gratefulness to the Indian leader, Fidel Castro appeared unexpectedly at the guest house to see Jyoti Basu off.

According to some references by Sitaram Yechury, who was accompanying him, Basu asked him: How many years since the Revolution took place? When Sitaram replied 34 years, he said, referring to Fidel: He still has not forgotten his guerilla tactics.

Comrade Basu later wrote about this visit: I had visited almost all socialist countries but unfortunately Cuba was not one of them. I was thus eager when the invitation came. I had met Fidel Castro at the Dum Dum airport many years back. I went to Havana via Madrid after a stopover at London. President Fidel Castro came over to the state guest house where we were staying and discussed the global situation and the need to strengthen Indo-Cuban friendship. I was pleasantly surprised the next day when Castro made his way to our guest house unannounced and himself took us to the airport in a farewell gesture. I shall never forget this.

His role as a torch-bearer of solidarity with Cuba is to be highlighted. Indeed it was in 1995 that he played a key role in successfully organising the First Asia-Pacific Regional Conference of Solidarity with Cuba, held in 1995 in West Bengal. In that same year, Comrade Basu was awarded the Friendship Medal given by the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba in recognition of his relevant contribution not only to promote bilateral ties but to defend Cuba in any possible scenario.

May I finish this small homage by applying to him his own words on Cuba: Comrade Basu will remain a beacon light for the people around the world who are facing impoverishment, suffering and loss of livelihood.

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