AN APPRECIATION: John Haylett on the life of Jyoti Basu, Chief Minister of West Bengal between 1977 and 2000 and a man who took tens of millions of people out of poverty and insecurity. From the Morning Star [21 January]. See events for commemorative meetings across Britain.

Even two days official mourning, during which tens of thousands of people filed past his body in a Kolkota funeral parlour this week, cannot do justice to the contribution that Indian Communist leader Jyoti Basu made to political struggle in India.


Tributes from his close comrades and political opponents give some measure of his impact.

But the greatest appreciation of his work will undoubtedly be felt by the rural millions in West Bengal state who benefited from land redistribution, democratic decentralisation through the panchayat local democracy system, agricultural assistance, trade union rights and expansion of education during his period as chief minister from 1977 to 2000.

Basu, who had operated in support of the communist underground movement during colonial rule, was also forced underground himself under various states of emergency after independence.

He was born in 1914 in Kolkota and came to England to study law in 1935, becoming a member of the India League student group headed by VK Krishna Menon, who later served as India's foreign minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's government.

Basu came into contact with the Communist Party, studying Marxism and meeting party leaders Harry Pollitt, Rajani Palme Dutt and Ben Bradley. He is said to have been advised by Pollitt not to join the party before going home in 1940.

On his return he joined the Communist Party of India, but despite enrolling as a barrister he never practised, working full-time for the party.

Basu became secretary of Friends of Soviet Union and the Anti-Fascist Writers' Association, but his main task was liaison with underground party leaders.

Basu actively backed the bitter Tebhaga campaign in Bengal led by Kisan Sabha, the peasant front initiated by the party, which fought to reduce the amount paid by sharecroppers to landlords from a half to a third of their harvest.

The party's direct action was complemented by participation in elections, using the existing democratic framework to benefit working people.

Following ideological and political differences within the CPI, Basu was among the founders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1964. Indeed, he was the last surviving member of the first CPI(M) politburo.

Despite being reviled as "agents of China" during the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict, the CPI(M) was part of the successful United Front government elected in West Bengal in 1967 and 1969, in which Basu served as deputy chief minister.

But, when the CPI(M) became the largest party in the 1971 state election, presidential rule was imposed on West Bengal to frustrate the people's will.

It was not until 1977 that central government eased its repression and denial of democracy and accepted the electoral victory of the Left Front, headed by the CPI(M), which appointed Basu as chief minister.

After stepping down as West Bengal chief minister in November 2000, Basu continued to lead the party there, but his health deteriorated gradually until he died last Sunday of multiple organ failure aged 95.

Indian Premier Manmohan Singh described him as "one of the most able administrators and politicians of independent India," revealing that he had often sought Basu's advice.

"His advice was statesmanlike but always pragmatic and based on unshakable values that he championed throughout his political career."

The Bangladesh parliament passed a unanimous tribute resolution to Basu, recalling his contribution to the country's successful liberation war in 1971.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flew to Kolkota to pay her respects to the close ally of her father, the first president of independent Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

"India lost a great leader and politician on his death. Bangladesh lost a well-wisher and I personally lost a guardian," she said.

Communist Party of India national secretary Doraiswamy Raja called Basu "the finest Communist leader," while CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat said that he was "one of the few political leaders in independent India who actually deepened democracy, strengthened secularism and brought the working people to the centre stage of Indian politics. There will be none like Jyoti Basu again."