It is one of the obituary is which not suppose to be like one. But the person for whom it is written deserved this. There are very few parallels in history for this person and his acts. Very few people in this world have being such systematic. Systematic in eating into very roots of which it is a fruit. But this fruit was infected, like many others and from various other trees, by a foreign pest.
Criticism is one of the easiest things to do. It is very easy to find faults and point it out. But what do you do when you know the person in question lead a massive decline in a state, and a society on a whole. I am referring to Jyoti Basu (1914-2010) the longest serving Chief Minister of any Indian state, and practically ruled with an iron fist.
As respects poured in, after (finally after rumors of two weeks) his death, describing him as a great leader, great communist, a visionary and an honest person. It is the appropriate time to reflect what is his real legacy is and question ourselves, are we drowning ourselves and the truth in the barrage of emotions?
Politicians are like chameleons, they change their colors depending on the situation. That can explain the praises bestowed on him by the politicians across the spectrum. Sonia Gandhi described him as “A Towering personality” which he was, towering over the destruction of Bengal. Prakash Karat remarked “he taught communists how to work and serve the people” yes, indeed he did, the terms ‘Gherao’,’bandh’ would have become a part of Dictionary only because his students comrades applied it in the streets of Bengal, Kerala, Tripura and other parts of India with or without any valid reason. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said “...He played a significant role in organizing left and democractic movement” organizing left, indeed he helped by politicization of educational institutions, banning of English teaching till fifth medium (can be explained from the fact that he even could not write in Bengali because he was not provided Bengali education at St. Xavier’s) and growth of SFI (by even enrolling school children into its ranks), but growth of democratic institutions? Well if you count illegal migrants, a bottle of local liquor brew, a sari and 20 rupees note before elections as democracy, then absolutely, under his regime rigging of election (as it is actually called) acquired new degree of sophistication.
Bengal once was the most industrialized state in India; every multinational present in India had an office or a factory here. Pandit Nehru once quipped “what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”, by jove! India didn’t think Basu as Prime Minister of India during tumultuous nineties otherwise the nation would have same fate as Bengal had under his regime. Flight of industries began in 1960s as a direct result of Naxalism and militant unionism. But it was under his regime that CITU created a vice like grip over the industries, resulting in stagnation and lastly the flight. In the name of protecting the workers, his fellow comrades made them useless. Calcutta was supposed to be aviation hub of South Asia, but militant unionism killed that very opportunity itself. Jute industry, a green industry, declined under his rule. And those businessmen, who remained, became oligarchs, with virtually no one to challenge and with alleged patronage of the Party.
He was credited with land reforms and rejuvenation of Panchayati raj in Bengal. Holds true, situation in rural Bengal was really pathetic then. Land was redistributed, panchayati raj instituted and the Party gain prominence and that to such extent that any voice of dissent coming out of the fellow villages is met with two ‘b’, butcher or bribery. Offices of Panchayati Institutions doubled up as Party commissariat, and its godowns doubled up as arsenals, with weapons which policemen can only dreamt of. Singur, Lalgarh and Nandigram are the fruits of the seed sown in by left front under the demagogue of Late Jyoti Basu.
Kachan Gupta, a journalist writing in The Pioneer and his blog aptly observes
“Uncharitable as it may sound, but there really is no reason to nurse fond memories of Jyoti Basu. In fact, there are no fond memories to recall of those days when hopelessness permeated the present and the future appeared bleak. Entire generations of educated middle-class Bengalis were forced to seek refuge in other States or migrate to America as Jyoti Basu worked overtime to first destroy West Bengal’s economy, chase out Bengali talent and then hand over a disinherited State to Burrabazar traders and wholesale merchants who overnight became ‘industrialists’ with a passion for asset-stripping and investing their ‘profits’ elsewhere. A State that was earlier referred to as ‘Sheffield of the East’ was rendered by Jyoti Basu into a vast stretch of wasteland; the Oxford English Dictionary would have been poorer by a word had he not made ‘gherao’ into an officially-sanctioned instrument of coercion; ‘load-shedding’ would have never entered into our popular lexicon had he not made it a part of daily life in West Bengal though he ensured Hindustan Park, where he stayed, was spared power cuts. It would have been churlish to grudge him the good life had he not exerted to deny it to others, except of course his son Chandan Basu who was last in the news for cheating on taxes that should have been paid on his imported fancy car.”
When I was a kid, my father told me about Bengal, about trams and metros and about communism, my father is no way communist but in 70s it was a fad and he was attracted towards it. I went to Calcutta more than 20 years ago (it was my first and last visit) and have no memory of the place except the laidbackness of a metropolitan which I witnessed for the first time. In comparison with Delhi in 1989/90/91 (I don’t remember the exact year) Calcutta was overwhelming, yet there was something which I felt, even as kid, was not right. As I grew up more disinterested I got about the state from which I only inherit my culture and mother tongue, but on retrospection kept comparing between the Delhi and Calcutta, between capitalism and communism, in spite of the disinterest I somewhat was unsure. However, when I changed my school to a Bengali school I first came into contact with the Bengalis from the state talking with then I realized how have the Mr. Basu and his cronies have trivialized the state. One day of my friend then boasted me about a super-specialty hospital ‘fully computerized’ that has being built in Calcutta to which my other Bengali friend (another Delhitie) coldly replied “only one, here in Delhi almost every hospital is computerized”, end of debate, but beginning of introspection in my mind. One of my uncle’s friend visited Calcutta two years back and gave his observation to us, “Products there is good, so is creativity and craftsmanship, but attitude is disgusting, every street corner, young men who should be working is talking about dada(Sourav Ganguly) or the Party. People just don’t like to work, if it pays on Sunday I would have opened my shop but here no….Delhi is much better, people at least work hard”. This entire attitude, I believe, is an outgrowth of ideology of gherao. An ideology defended by the man himself.
Somewhere I read, “A statesman thinks about the next generation, whereas a politician thinks about the next election”, Jyoti babu might have never thought about the next election, but his views about the next generation was sure myopic. Today Jyoti babu is no more, like any other communist he has donated his body (a tradition amongst communists showing aversion towards religion but in fact serves no end). Thousands have thronged
Calcutta Kolkatta for his shes jatra (last journey) crying, saluting over his body. But sadly enough, no matter how great statesman politician he was he has left a legacy which a people of Bengal should rather forgo and forget.
© Tarun Mitra
3. Mint, Delhi Edition, Dated January 18, 2010
4. Mail Today, Delhi Edition, Dated January 18,2010
3. Photo Courtesy, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1d/Jyotibasu.JPG (Covered under