Jyoti Basu is 92 years old. At that age, one can be expected to take things a bit easy. But his party clearly thinks that the time is not ripe yet for him to put his feet up. In Kolkata, 57-year-old CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat said as much when, at the conclusion of the two-day politburo meeting, he youthfully announced the “unanimous decision” that despite Mr Basu’s wish to retire from the party politburo, the politburo does not want him to retire. In other words, comrades don’t superannuate.
The CPI(M), as all ideologically driven parties, loves to take every opportunity to let it be known that the party is bigger than any individual. Iconic though the former West Bengal Chief Minister may be, such a status does not give Mr Basu the right to grow old and leave the party behind. In 1997, Mr Basu seemed all set to be the consensus leader of the United Front. The CPI(M) politburo had then decided not to participate in the government, a decision that the prime minister-not-to-be later termed a “historic blunder”. While this may sound like a Mephistophelean deal, it isn’t. In a world inhabited by ailing comrades like the 90-year-old Harkishen Singh Surjeet and the 80-year-old Fidel Castro, Mr Basu should know that age is not a criterion for Marxist veterans to ride into the sunset.
A physical excuse like old age and the travails that may come with it have no place in dialectical materialism. And it’s too late for Mr Basu to join the BJP, where retirement after putting in decades of good work is not so enthusiastically resisted.