Jyoti Basu, an icon of the country’s Communist movement and a leader who could have become the world’s first democratically elected Marxist prime minister, died at a Kolkata hospital on Sunday.
He was 95.
Basu’s health deteriorated steadily after he was hospitalised with severe pneumonia on January 1. “He died of pneumonia, sepsis and multiple organ failure,” said Dr A.K. Maiti, Basu’s cardiologist and family physician.
Basu’s death, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “marks the end of an era in the annals of Indian politics” and that his “legendary skills in building consensus” will be missed by all.
The country’s longest serving chief minister, Basu headed the Left Front government in West Bengal f or 23 years, from 1977 to 2000.
His success in running Bengal’s coalition government coupled with the respect he commanded across the country’s diverse political spectrum made him the favourite for the prime minister’s job in 1996, when no party won a majority. But the decision-making central committee of his Communist Party of India (Marxist) did not allow Basu to accept the offer from the United Front -- a group of non-Congress and non-BJP parties.
Basu accepted the decision but later described it as a “historic blunder.”
As the news of Basu’s death broke, tributes poured in.
Even BJP leader L.K. Advani said he had great respect for Basu’s idealism even though “our ideologies were different”.
Basu’s body will be kept at a funeral parlour till Tuesday morning. In keeping with his ideology, there will be no funeral rites. His body will be donated to the Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital for research.