Failing health and advancing age have forced former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, now 95, to keep away from the Lok Sabha election campaign. But he is still eagerly sought after by Marxists ahead of their toughest electoral battle.
For the first time the ruling Left Front has plunged into the campaign minus the veteran Basu, who for nearly a quarter century presided over the state government led by his Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).
Even after his voluntary retirement from day-to-day party activities, the CPI-M still exploits Basu's acceptance at the national level to woo voters for the April-May elections.
Basu's picture towers over all other leaders on the campaign website launched by the party, of which he is the only living member of its first politburo.
"He is definitely feeling sad because he could not attend campaign meetings for the first time. It's an exceptional year as we couldn't see him deliver speeches," Basu's personal assistant Joykrishna Ghosh told IANS.
The CPI-M and its three smaller Left allies brace for the Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal against the joint forces of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress in what is expected to be a tough fight.
It is precisely now that the CPI-M badly needs Basu, who presided over West Bengal from 1977 until stepping down in 2000, the longest innings for any chief minister in India.
"He is an intelligent human being. He understands his health condition very well," Ghosh said, adding he regularly seeks reports on state as well as national developments from party cadres.
Born on July 8, 1914, in Kolkata to a wealthy family, Basu took to communism in London. On his return to India, he joined the Communist Party of India (CPI) and got engrossed in trade unions.
Basu made his debut in electoral politics in 1946. He was elected to the state assembly 11 times, losing only once in 1972. After the CPI split in 1964, he joined the CPI(M) and was elected to its Central Committee and Politburo. Since then he has adorned those two posts.
According to CPI-M sources, Left Front chairman Biman Bose briefs Basu about party decisions every Friday.
"Basu is also kept updated about every small development in the party through notes. We send political messages to him through our messengers," a CPI-M source told IANS.
Basu slipped and fell in his house last year and suffered an internal haemorrhage in the head. Since then, he rarely steps out of his Salt Lake home.
At a Left Front meet last month, a recorded speech of Basu beamed on giant screens was received with loud applause.
"Though he is not with us physically in the campaign, his recorded speeches goaded the people to elect Left Front candidates last time," said Basudeb Acharya, leader of the CPI-M in the outgoing Lok Sabha.
"His presence would have been important to all of us but this time it was not possible because of his health," Acharya, the CPI-M candidate from Bankura, told IANS.
In the last Lok Sabha elections in 2004, Basu visited only Kolkata and its adjoining constituencies. Even that is not possible this time.