Jyoti Basu pulls in the crowds - one last time
They came in thousands, from far and near. Some queued up at night for one last glimpse. Some cried and yet others broke into spontaneous shouts of "Long live comrade Jyoti Basu" as the Marxist patriarch's body was carried in a procession around the heart of Kolkata on Tuesday.
Men and women, some with children in tow, thronged the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) West Bengal headquarters at Alimuddin Street, the state secretariat at Writers Buildings and the assembly premises to pay their last respects to Basu, who had been chief minister for 23 years and died Sunday at the age of 95.
"I can still hear the speech he had given at Barasat Kachari Maidan during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. He will remain in my heart as one of the greatest icons Bengal had ever produced," said Jamal Ahmed, who had queued up in front of Alimuddin Street since midnight to get a glimpse of the leader.
Long queues of people, young and old alike, holding garlands and placards could be seen outside the assembly. "Red salute to comrade Jyoti Basu", "We will never forget you" said the placards.
In death too, he lived up to his reputation as a mass leader.
Basu's body was placed in a flower-bedecked lorry. It was taken out of Peace Haven funeral parlour at 7.30 am. Tuesday and brought to CPI-M's party office. From there, it headed for Writers' Building at 9 am. navigating through Lenin Sarani and Sidhu-Kanhu Dahar in central Kolkata.
The mortal remains of Basu were taken to the assembly at around 10.20 am.
Paresh Mandal, 86, had come all the way from Satgachia, which was the assembly constituency of Basu from 1977 to 2001, to see his beloved leader one last time.
"I have come to see my leader for the last time. I never missed any of his election campaigns when he used to address rallies at Satgachia. Though I am not affiliated to any party, Jyoti Babu will remain my leader till the day I die," said Mandal breaking into tears.
Chotan Dutt, a businessman from Kolkata's New Market area, said: "I decided to skip business today and came here to witness Jyoti Basu's funeral procession. I know I will never get any chance to hear him at any political rally any more. This is the last time I am seeing his body."
Basu's body will be kept at the state legislative assembly till 3 pm on Tuesday. It will be donated for medical science to a state-run hospital.
"The gathering during Basu's last journey proves that the Communist movement in West Bengal has not died out. We will again rise and follow the ideals he had shown us during his long political life," said Suchandan Ghosh, an officegoer, who was seen shouting - "Long live comrade Jyoti Basu."