A communist forever

Published : Nov 11, 2000 00:00 IST


SPEAKING to mediapersons a few days before his retirement, Chief Minister Jyoti Basu pointed out that Communists did not retire. They retained their political conviction throughout their lives, he said. He added that this was true in his case too and tha t he would continue to help his party in a manner his health permitted.

Basu, who served as Chief Minister for the longest term in India's democratic history, made it clear that the sole reason for his decision to retire was indifferent health and that he would continue political activity as a Polit Bureau member of the Comm unist Party of India (Marxist) in whatever way possible.

Jyoti Basu's retirement evoked a variety of responses from political circles in New Delhi. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners such as the Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) perceive a decline in Left politics in West Bengal and the country as a whole with Basu's retirement. His statement that he would pursue his political activity in whatever manner possible was ridiculed by some of them as the wishful thinking of a senior citizen.

Speaking to mediapersons, BJP leader and Rural Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said that Jyoti Basu's retirement was bound to weaken the Left further, particularly in West Bengal. Trinamul Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyaya said Basu's retirement , coming as it did hardly six months before the West Bengal Assembly elections, meant that the veteran Marxist wanted to run away from an electoral battle that he was sure to lose.

Congress(I) leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that Jyoti Basu had retired only from the Chief Minister's office and as a politician the Congress(I) would treat him as it had treated him in the past: "Opposing most of his policies but agreeing with some such a s the opposition to the communal BJP." Nothing, added Azad, had happened to change this view.

The reactions from other non-Left parties, including the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), have been different. Ranjan Yadav, RJD leader, said that Jyoti Basu's decision to retire from chief ministership and to continue in politics opened up new vistas for secular and people-oriented social and political intervention in the country.

Many independent political observers hold a similar view. Speaking to Frontline, political analyst Hariraj Singh Tyagi pointed out that Jyoti Basu was the only leader who commanded as much respect as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at the nati onal level and that he should now use it to develop Left politics in a more creative and proactive manner. Jyoti Basu's "respect-inspiring personality" could be used by the CPI(M) and other Left parties not only to advance the causes that were dear to th em but also to forge a broad unity of non-BJP, non-Congress(I) parties, he remarked.

According to a senior Janata Dal(S) leader who wished to remain anonymous, Jyoti Basu's presence in national politics is required now more than ever before, particularly after the CPI(M)'s recent special conference in Thiruvananthapuram gave a call to ot her political parties to regroup and form a third alternative. The conference had noted that "the forces which had fallen into disarray in the last three years are regrouping again, in the background of the threat posed by communalism and the attacks on the people's economic interests."

Does this mean that the only Communist leader in the country who was offered the Prime Minister's position would spend more time in New Delhi? The responses from the CPI(M) make it clear that there is no specific proposal from the party in this regard.

Speaking to Frontline, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat said that Jyoti Basu's main priority would continue to be West Bengal, although it will not be in the area of governance. "He would devote time to strengthen the political campaign ag ainst the anti-Communist, anti-Left forces in the State during the elections, which are due in six months." He added that Jyoti Basu would continue his work in the national capital as the Polit Bureau member of the party, which would certainly involve ef forts to build a third alternative by mobilising workers, peasants, the middle class, women, youth, students and the working people and building a powerful movement for social transformation. "This concept of building an alternative to the communal BJP a t the Centre and of effecting a change from the policies pursued by the Congress(I) is a paramount task of the party and Jyoti Basu will certainly contribute in that area, but that does not mean a specific individual role has been assigned to him," Karat said.

Jyoti Basu had earlier announced that he would retire on September 15 but subsequently decided to continue in office for some more time on the request of CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet. The party's request and Basu's concurrence came in view of the sustained campaign carried out by the Trinamul Congress, the principal Opposition party in West Bengal and a constituent of the NDA, against the "atrocities of the CPI(M) and its government". Defence Minister George Fernandes had toured some parts of West Bengal in the company of Trinamul Congress leader and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee on a "fact-finding mission" and made some statements against the Left Front government.

The Trinamul Congress had for long sought the dismissal of the West Bengal government on the grounds of deteriorating law and order. Although the Centre had not acceded to the request, there was a perception within the Left Front that the BJP and its ass ociates in the NDA planned to launch an operation on the lines of the one that was conducted by the Congress(I) government in Tripura in the early 1990s to throw out the Left Front government led by Nripen Chakraborty. The Tripura strategy involved the u nleashing of violence by extremist and lumpen groups in order to create law and order problems, blaming them on the State government, dismissing it, installing a new administrative machinery controlled by New Delhi and then using it to influence election s. The thinking in the CPI(M) and the Left Front at the time was that a leader of Jyoti Basu's stature had to be in the Chief Minister's office to handle the situation.

According to Prakash Karat, the CPI(M) is of the view that the NDA will not repeat the strategy in West Bengal. By all indications, this perception has facilitated Basu's retirement. "We want to give the new Chief Minister six months to lead the governme nt and show that the government is not dependent on Basu's personality alone, as our opponents like to say," Prakash Karat said.

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