Jyoti Basu was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon who led the Marxist movement of India like a colossus. Indian history would have taken a different course had his party allowed him to become prime minister in 1996 and in 1997, when he was offered the top job for the second time.
But the narrow-minded attitude of the CPI-M leadership and some narcissists, who failed to see beyond their noses, did not allow Basu to accept the job. A dejected Basu called it a ‘historic blunder’. In 2004, Basu again insisted that the CPI-M should participate in the government at the Centre, but his party turned him down. And look, today the CPI-M has become an inconsequential force in the country.
There have been very few tall leaders in Indian politics like Jyoti Basu. A reticent, non-partisan personality, who spoke little about himself, Basu is a super-class mass leader and a great steward of coalition politics. Coalition politics has its problems but Basu was so adept in running a coalition government that he attracted the attention of the national leaders.
No wonder, he ran the Left Front Government in Bengal cohesively for nearly 24 years and when the nation was looking for a coalition leader, they turned towards Basu to lead the country in 1996. India had faith in his leadership and judgement, so national leaders of different hues and colours requested the CPI-M to let Basu become PM. But alas!
I always supported the idea of Basu becoming PM. But I was in a minority in the party. I also supported his view that the CPI-M should join the government. But a non-effusive Basu absorbed it all. However, he was unhappy with the way the party was being run by the present CPI-M leadership.
I have been very close to Basu. Ever since the 1971 Lok Sabha elections, when he was a prime mover in getting me a ticket to stand as an Independent candidate supported by the CPI-M from Burdwan. I have been a CPI-M MP till 2004. I lost once in 1984 and Basu was so upset that he campaigned for me vigorously when he got me the Bolpur by-election ticket.
He has been very encouraging and always instilled confidence in me. Basu showed his faith in me when he supported my elevation as the Leader of the CPI-M Parliamentary Party. And lastly, had it not been for Basu, I would have never accepted the post of Speaker in the 15th Lok Sabha.
I have learnt a lot from Jyoti Basu. Had it not been for Basu – and Harekrishna Konar and Benoy Chowdhury – I would have happily continued my legal profession. I came close to Basu and S.K. Acharya when my father N.C. Chatterjee was the MP from Burdwan. When my father refused to contest, Basu insisted that I fight from the same constituency. Thus, I made my entry into the 5th Lok Sabha.
I will always remember Jyoti Basu as a leader who could relate to the masses directly and had his finger on the pulse of the people. He was one who could draw thousands of people by just getting his name mentioned on posters of a public meeting. He was a visionary, a master of coalition politics and an irreplaceable leader of India and its communist movement.
(As told to Arindam Sarkar)