Posts Tagged 'jyoti basu'

A Bhadralok Communist

http://www.expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title=A+Bhadralok+Communist&artid=ao92j8QENic=&SectionID=d16Fdk4iJhE=&MainSectionID=HuSUEmcGnyc=&SectionName=aVlZZy44Xq0bJKAA84nwcg==&SEO=

A Bhadralok Communist
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S Gurumurthy

‘Gana’ as Jyoti Basu who ruled West Bengal as chief minister for 23 long years from 1977 to 2000, was affectionately known at home, is no more. Undoubtedly a versatile politician whose public life lasted six decades, different people will recall Basu in different ways. His adversaries and friends alike will recall him as a practical communist who even undertook a visit to the US, the arch enemy of his party and its ideology, seeking its investment in his state. The official website of the Left Front government brings out his greatest achievement. It eulogises him as the one who perpetuated Communist control over the state apparatus of West Bengal — an indisputable fact. Understanding how he achieved this feat is critical to know Jyoti Basu as a politician as also his mission.
The State website http://www.jyotibasu.net says that Jyoti Basu “is known primarily” for “establishing a seemingly indestructible Communist control over some of the levers of the state-level political power in West Bengal”. The official website says that he achieved this by combining “communist extra parliamentary” political tactic with the parliamentary tactic “aimed at establishing indestructible Communist control”. But could ‘indestructible communist’ control be consistent with parliamentary democratic process? No. It could not be. But a re-reading of the official website makes it evident that what it talks of is not democratic, but “Communist”, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary political tactics.
Here is a telling illustration of how ‘the Communist extra parliamentary political tactic’ is different from democratic parliamentary process. In its editorial dated August 6, 2003 written in the context of the unprecedented violence that marked the panchayat polls in the state which the CPI(M) had won, The Statesman newspaper said it was not “the popularity of the Marxists” that was the reason for the marginalisation of the opposition parties in the elections, but, it was the Marxists’ “expertise in fixing elections by violence, intimidation, and by simple expedient of preventing opposition candidates from filing nominations”. The edit concluded: “it is the prescriptive right of the communists to use any method they choose and if it is a wrong or illegal method, the stigma is instantly washed away when they touch it.” The implication is clear. The Marxists never considered it a sin to fix elections by fraud and violence, and if they did it, no stigma would attach to them! The use of this extra parliamentary tactic along with the parliamentary — read electoral — process is the secret of Jyoti Basu’s success in perpetuating communist control over the State apparatus in West Bengal. But more than this achievement, that he did so without being faulted for it speaks volumes about how an acceptable face can make unacceptable things acceptable to the people who count.
Jyoti Basu was the face of Bengali Communism most acceptable to the Bengali Bhadralok. For the British, Bhadralok meant the ‘well-mannered’ Bengali. But, in the dictionary of Indian politics, it would simply mean the upper castes in Bengal. While in rest of India, with the democratic process deepening with each election, the lower castes’ share of power increased, the Marxist controlled West Bengal had virtually kept out the lower castes and denied their due share in power. Surprised? Here is the evidence. In the governments led by Jyoti Basu between 1977 and 1982, “there were even more Brahmins than in the Congress governments, over 35 per cent; the number of Kayasthas (31 per cent) and Vaishyas (23 per cent) was almost the same as in Congress governments”. What was the share of the Scheduled Castes in Jyoti Basu ministry? Believe it — just “1.5 per cent”. If the “inferior ministers — ministers of state and deputy ministers — were left out”, it would be even “lower”. Stunningly, in Basu’s ministry in 1977 and 1982 “there was not a single Scheduled Caste member of the Council of Ministers”. Yes, not a single one despite West Bengal having the highest concentration of Scheduled Caste population in the whole country — almost 24 per cent (Census 1991). These shocking facts have been brought out in a scholarly work that appears in http://www.ambedkar.org/books/tu2.htm.
The message is evident. The transfer of power from Congress to Marxists had actually made it worse for the lower castes. The reason. Jyoti Basu largely represented the traditional Bengal, contrary to the popular notion that he and the likes of him were products of Marxian modernity. His dress and circle of friends readily identified him with the Bengali Bhadralok and endeared him to the media in Bengal dominated by the Bhadralok, which in turn made him inevitable for the party within. Result, Bhadralok actually dominated Bengali politics more under the Marxists than even under the Congress. The website http://www.jyotibasu.net says that Jyoti Basu was “initially distrustful of parliamentary politics as the politics of the ‘bourgeois talking-shops’”. But that is precisely what his politics substantially ended with. The Bhadralok-led media in Bengal, save exceptions like The Statesman, were understandably comfortable with the tactics of Jyoti Basu government since that preserved the political primacy of the Bhadralok. The national media was content to certify the CPI(M) as secular, which was sufficient to wash off all sins of its extra parliamentary tactics.
The extra parliamentary tactic that Jyoti Basu had bequeathed to the Marxists has sustained them for almost a decade after Basu quit in the year 2000. But things seem to be changing now. Thanks to the aggressive politics of Mamata Bannerjee, the Bengali lower caste political assertion is on the rise. The southern states witnessed such assertion in 1950s and the northern states, much later, in 1990s. But, thanks to Marxist — read Bhadralok — control over West Bengal politics, lower caste assertion has been delayed for almost half a century and has not taken off even today in the State. With the Marxists beginning to falter, the national media too has begun pointing to the Bhadralok character of Marxism in West Bengal which it would not do a day earlier. Analysing the Nandigram issue in Indian Express (March 20, 2007) Yogendra Yadav, a well-known political analyst wrote: “Nandigram did not surprise me…….. In West Bengal, the proportion of upper castes increased in the state assembly after the Left Front came to power. A coincidence? Not if you calculate the caste composition of successive Left Front ministries: About two-thirds of the ministers come from the top three jatis (Brahman, Boddis, Kayasthas)”. Yet, thanks to the very media’s indulgence, Jyoti Basu was not perceived as a traditional Bhadralok politician who did not share power with the lower castes, but, as a Marxian modernist.
But the one area where Jyoti Basu combined the parliamentary and extra parliamentary tactics to keep the lower sections of society satisfied was land reform. Thus, even as Jyoti Basu reserved state power for the Bhadralok, he also ensured that legislative land reforms were supported by extra legislative abrogation of land by the communists for distribution. Thus, Basu secured land for the lower castes but reserved power for the upper castes — a trade-off that retained the Bhadralok primacy in power politics, and also won rural Bengal for the CPI(M). But ironically, this is precisely where the Trinamool Congress is challenging the Marxists. How? The very land, distributing which the CPI(M) became the ideological darling of the people, has now become its nemesis as the CPI(M) forcibly took it back from the people in Singur and Nandigram to give it to the ideological enemies of the party.
But undoubtedly Jyoti Basu knew the art of building and wielding power within, and without altering, the existing social architecture. He was a practical politician, not an idealist nor a statesman. But despite ruling the state of West Bengal for 23 long years Jyoti Basu himself died as an unhappy man because when other parties wanted him as the prime minister of the country in 1996, it was his party which prevented him. Expressing his frustration, not once but twice, Jyoti Basu said that his party’s decision to veto his elevation to the highest political office was a “Himalayan Blunder”. Yet, till now there is no explanation from his party as to why it denied him the high office when the dream of any political party would be to see one of its leaders as the prime minister. The mystique veto of the CPI(M) against its own most popular leader makes Jyoti Basu unique. Thus ends the political saga of Jyoti Basu who made his party acceptable to Bengal but found himself unacceptable to his own party, to lead India!
(S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues. E-mail: comment@gurumurthy.net)

Destroyer of West Bengal

http://kanchangupta.blogspot.com/2010/01/destroyer-of-west-bengal.html

Saturday, January 09, 2010
Destroyer of West Bengal

Had it been Jyoti Banerjee lying unattended in a filthy general ward of SSKM Hospital in Kolkata and not Jyoti Basu in the state-of-the-art ICCU of AMRI Hospital, among the swankiest and most expensive super-speciality healthcare facilities in West Bengal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would not have bothered to arrange for a video-conference for top doctors at AIIMS to compare notes with those attending on the former Chief Minister of West Bengal.

Jyoti Banerjee, like most of us, spent his working life paying taxes to the Government. Jyoti Basu spent the better part of his life living off tax-payers’ money — the conscience of the veteran Marxist was never pricked by the fact that he appropriated for himself a lifestyle shunned by his comrades and denied to the people of a State whose fate he presided over for a quarter century. Kalachand Roy laid what we know today as Odisha to waste in the 16th century; Jyoti Basu was the 20th century’s Kala Pahad who led West Bengal from despair to darkness, literally and metaphorically.

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.

Let it be said, and said bluntly, that Jyoti Basu’s record in office, first as Deputy Chief Minister in two successive United Front Governments beginning 1967 (for all practical purposes he was the de facto Chief Minister with a hapless Ajoy Mukherjee reduced to indulging in Gandhigiri to make his presence felt) and later as Chief Minister for nearly 25 years at the head of the Left Front Government which has been in power for 32 years now, the “longest elected Communist Government” as party commissars untiringly point out to the naïve and the novitiate, is a terrible tale of calculated destruction of West Bengal in the name of ideology. It’s easy to criticise the CPI(M) for politicising the police force and converting it into a goons brigade, but it was Jyoti Basu who initiated the process. It was he who instructed them, as Deputy Chief Minister during the disastrous UF regime, to play the role of foot soldiers of the CPI(M), first by not acting against party cadre on the rampage, and then by playing an unabashedly partisan role in industrial and agrarian disputes.

The fulsome praise that is heaped on Jyoti Basu today — he is variously described by party loyalists and those enamoured of bhadralok Marxists as a ‘humane administrator’ and ‘farsighted leader’ — is entirely misleading if not undeserving. Within the first seven months of the United Front coming to power, 43,947 workers were laid off and thousands more rendered jobless as factories were shut down following gheraos and strikes instigated and endorsed by him. The flight of capital in those initial days of emergent Marxist power amounted to Rs 2,500 million. In 1967, there were 438 ‘industrial disputes’ involving 165,000 workers and resulting in the loss of five million man hours. By 1969, there were 710 ‘industrial disputes’ involving 645,000 workers and a loss of 8.5 million man hours. That was a taste of things to come in the following decades. By the time Jyoti Basu demitted office, West Bengal had nothing to boast of except closed mills and shuttered factories; every institution and agency of the State had been subverted under his tutelage; and, the civil administration had been converted into an extension counter of the CPI(M) with babus happy to be used as doormats.

After every outrage, every criminal misdeed committed by Marxist goons or the police while he was Chief Minister, Jyoti Basu would crudely respond with a brusque “Emon to hoyei thaakey” (or, as Donald Rumsfeld would famously say, “Stuff happens!”). He did not brook any criticism of the Marich Jhapi massacre by his police in 1979 when refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan were shot dead in cold blood. Till date, nobody knows for sure how many died in that slaughter for Jyoti Basu never allowed an independent inquiry. Neither did the man whose heart bled so profusely for the lost souls of Nandigram hesitate to justify the butchery of April 30, 1982 when 16 monks and a nun of the Ananda Marg order were set ablaze in south Kolkata by a mob of Marxist thugs. The man who led that murderous lot was known for his proximity to Jyoti Basu, a fact that the CPI(M) would now hasten to deny. Nor did Jyoti Basu wince when the police shot dead 13 Congress activists a short distance from Writers’ Building on July 21, 1993; he later justified the police action, saying it was necessary to enforce the writ of the state. Yet, he wouldn’t allow the police to act every time Muslims ran riot, most infamously after Mohammedan Sporting Club lost a football match.

Did Jyoti Basu, who never smiled in public lest he was accused of displaying human emotions, ever spare a thought for those who suffered terribly during his rule? Was he sensitive to the plight of those who were robbed of their lives, limbs and dignity by the lumpen proletariat which kept him in power? Did his heart cry out when women health workers were gang-raped and then two of them murdered by his party cadre on May 17, 1990 at Bantala on the eastern margins of Kolkata? Or when office-bearers of the Kolkata Police Association, set up under his patronage, raped Nehar Banu, a poor pavement dweller, at Phulbagan police station in 1992? “Emon to hoyei thaakey,” the revered Marxist would say, and then go on to slyly insinuate that the victims deserved what they got.

As a Bengali, I grieve for the wasted decades but for which West Bengal, with its huge pool of talent, could have led India from the front. I feel nothing for Jyoti Basu.