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Renaissance man

Jyoti Basu’s political evolution converged with the evolution of modern India, based irrevocably on the premise that the recognition of India’s diversity can only be on the basis of its secular democratic foundations, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2010 21:44 IST

It is, indeed, a remarkable coincidence that the country mourns the passing away of Jyoti Basu while observing the Diamond Jubilee of the founding of the Indian Republic. It is remarkable in the sense that Jyoti Basu’s seven decade-long political life is contemporaneous with the evolution of modern India.

Having gone to England to return as a Bar-at-Law, he was attracted to the Communist worldview, embraced the ideology and returned to India in 1940 not to don the black robes but to plunge directly into the freedom struggle by joining the Communist Party. Karl Marx had once said that when an idea grips the minds of the masses, it becomes a material force. The desire for independence from British rule had gripped the Indian masses when Jyoti Basu joined the Communist movement. He, however, was thinking ahead about the character and content of independent India. The political independence that would be achieved needed to be converted into the true economic independence of every Indian. This meant the creation of a socialist society where exploitation of man by man simply ceases to exist. It is with this passion, that remained undiluted till the end, that he served the Indian people.

Modern India, post-Independence, was evolving through major struggles that led eventually to the integration of the feudal princely States into the Indian Union. The struggles led by the Communists brought to the fore the agenda of land reforms and the abolition of feudal zamindari and other land tenure systems. This was also the period when the various linguistic nationalities in India, who had united in the struggle for freedom, were seeking their distinct identity — a process that finally led to the linguistic reorganisation of the Indian States in 1956.

Jyoti Basu’s political evolution converged with the evolution of modern India, based irrevocably on the premise that the recognition and celebration of India’s diversity can only be on the basis of its secular democratic foundations.

Jyoti Basu’s firm commitment to our country’s secular democratic character and administrative structures remained a constant feature of his work and activities. As communal forces represent the very antithesis of this evolution of modern India, Jyoti Basu worked to isolate and defeat the communal forces and strengthen the secular polity.

Simultaneously, his entire concentration was on carrying forward the struggle to convert India’s political independence into economic independence for its people — socialism. Within the Indian Communist movement, however, a very intense ideological battle erupted on how this was to be achieved. Steering clear and battling against both the right and left deviations, Jyoti Basu, along with his other comrades who eventually formed the CPI(M), adopted the correct line of combining parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activity and struggles to achieve this objective. Jyoti Basu excelled in using parliamentary democracy, its institutions and fora, both for advancing this struggle and simultaneously providing greater relief to the people.

The implementation of land reforms, the deepening of democracy by developing the panchayati raj institutions and the articulation of the need for better Centre-State relations to strengthen India’s federal character were some of his important contributions to the process of the consolidation of modern India. These apart, he was one of the first to constitute separate ministries for environment and science and technology.

Apart from all these, the main facet of Jyoti Basu’s personality that attracted people towards him was his unassailable faith in them. He would always urge the Party and its cadre to go to the people and explain to them what we were doing and take them into confidence. This faith in the people was the strength of his credibility. They never questioned, or even doubted, his integrity.

The consolidation of the modern Indian Republic and elevating the bar of political morality can be achieved only by pursuing this course, as exemplified by Jyoti Basu. The strengthening of the secular democratic foundations and, more importantly, completing the unfinished task of converting the political independence of the country into the true economic emancipation of the people, will define the contours of such a consolidation. The widening hiatus between ‘shining’ and ‘suffering’ India needs to be overcome.

This, in turn, requires — from all of us — the strengthening of the spirit of selfless service to the people and the country. Pledging his body to serve medical science, Jyoti Basu on April 4, 2003, wrote: “As a Communist, I am pledged to serve humanity till my last breath. I am happy that now I will continue to serve even after my death.”

Jyoti Basu’s indomitable fighting spirit that he displayed all his life was there to be seen in death as well. Running his 96th year, when he was brought to the hospital with pneumonia, medical science and doctors, naturally, did not see much hope. But, as always, he surprised everybody. For 17 days, the fight continued. ‘Never say give up’ sums up the spirit of his life.

It is this spirit that needs to be strengthened for carrying forward the consolidation of the modern Indian Republic.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal.