I have known Jyoti (Basu) for a long time. We were members of the West Bengal legislature for a considerable period of time, albeit in opposite camps. Jyoti was a confirmed Marxist, whereas I was a confirmed anti-communist. But that’s not important. Despite our political differences, we were friends.
I first met him in 1946-47 at a dinner hosted by Snehangshu Acharya (a prince-turned-communist who later became the advocate general of West Bengal). I found him as likeable then as I found him in later years.
But we had our differences. The records of the Assembly from November 16-21, 1962, when the motion on the Chinese aggression was being discussed, show that quite clearly.
Both of us had criticised each other as usual when I said: “Sir, I have no private quarrels with Mr Jyoti Basu. But if I quarrel today, I do so on the ground that I am an Indian. I quarrel today because I feel that the one emotion that should be respected by one and all is man’s finest emotion, namely the love for his country and love for his nation.”
But no matter what I said, I considered Jyoti a friend and a thoroughly good fellow. He was honest, sincere, cultured, educated – and a delightful person to be associated with.
He had many good qualities; without these, he certainly wouldn’t have remained chief minister of West Bengal for 23 years.
But despite these, and despite my fondness and love for him, I cannot forgive the administrative lapses when Jyoti was either the chief minister or the deputy chief minister .
In West Bengal, we had no economic, social, health or education reforms during his reign. In fact, our education system has become a mess due to total neglect and wrong planning.
He was very good as an administrator of his political party, particularly of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), its labour wing. But I think posterity will question many of his actions in general administration, industrial administration, business administration, education administration and health administration.
Since 1996, I have met him at parties and on social occasions, but never in the role of a politician. He was always straightforward. He could never hide anything from anybody, not even his fondness for whisky. But he never got drunk and I believe he never drank more than a peg or two.
Jyoti reached his zenith in 1983, but thereafter displayed a perceptible lack of interest in matters that were placed before him. No man is perfect – and neither was Jyoti. Having said this, and despite being political rivals, we were as friendly as one could imagine.
When I was the Indian ambassador in the United States, I gave one of the best receptions there in his honour and tried to help him in every possible way. He signed MoUs worth at $1.3 billion.
But unfortunately none of them was implemented.
He had his difficulties and one understands that, but those didn’t affect our social life. I served as Union minister, and later, Chief Minister of West Bengal. But the relations between the Basus and the Rays remained very cordial.
Jyoti was a civilised man, gracious and sociable to the extreme. Bengal will be a sad place without him.
SS Ray was the chief minister of West Bengal from March 19, 1972 to June 21, 1977. He was Basu’s immediate predecessor.