Jyoti Basu to stay on

Published : Sep 16, 2000 00:00 IST

JYOTI BASU, India's longest-serving Chief Minister, has decided to continue in office for some more time, reversing his earlier decision to retire on September 15. The veteran Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader changed his mind following discussio ns with party general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjit in Calcutta in the second week of September. Speaking to Frontline, Surjit said that Jyoti Basu had wanted to retire basically because of health problems but he had been persuaded to continue in offi ce for some more time in order to complete some unfinished tasks of the party and Left Front government of West Bengal. "We appreciate his difficulties completely. But there are some developmental and other projects that require his supervision," Surjit said.

Anil Biswas, secretary of the West Bengal State Committee of the CPI(M), announced on September 2 that Jyoti Basu, who had served as Chief Minister for 23 years, would retire and that Deputy Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya would be his successor.

Jyoti Basu's latest decision has evoked critical comments from the Opposition parties in West Bengal. The Trinamul Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress(I) have said that it had exposed the limitations and desperation of the CPI(M). "It h as revealed the extent of leadership vacuum in the CPI(M) and also how much the party is dependent on a single leader," said Congress(I) leader Pranab Kumar Mukherjee.

The Trinamul Congress, the principal Opposition, which has been waging a sustained campaign against the "atrocities of the CPI(M) and its government", described it as "an exercise in cowardice and the last-ditch attempt by the CPI(M) leadership to perpet uate an anti-people government, which is on its last legs".

Political observers correlate the postponement of Basu's retirement with the political situation prevailing in West Bengal in the wake of the aggressive anti-government campaign being carried out by the Trinamul Congress. Defence Minister George Fernande s, who toured some parts of West Bengal in the company of Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, made statements critical of the law and order situation in the State. He has also submitted a report to the Centre. The Trinamul Congress, a constituent o f the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, has for long been demanding the dismissal of the West Bengal government on law and order grounds. Although the Centre has not acceded to the request formally, there is a perception within the Left Front that the BJP and its associates would launch an operation similar to the one that was unleashed in Tripura in the early 1990s with a view to throwing out the Left Front government led by Nripen Chakraborty.

The Tripura strategy, points out a Left Front leader, was simple: unleash violence with the help of extremists and lumpen elements, create law and order problems, dismiss the State government after blaming it for the disturbances, instal a new administra tive machinery controlled by Delhi and then use it to influence the elections.

Observers are of the view that the CPI(M) would have preferred a leader of Basu's experience and stature at the helm to face any such eventuality.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan
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