Jyoti Basu, who ruled Bengal for a record 23 years but was stopped by his party from becoming Prime Minister, died today minutes before noon after a 17-day battle with pneumonia. He was 95. As he had wished, his body will be donated to the medical school. [Full story here]
Below, from The Telegraph, Calcutta:
Born to charm
Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in The Telegraph:
Manmohan Singh once adapted a famous comment about Britain’s R.A. Butler to say that Jyoti Basu was the best prime minister India had never had. The prime minister may long ago have outgrown that personal view privately expressed before he held a governmental position; but there is no denying that Basu had a panache that never failed to impress. This writer too waxed eulogistic about the former chief minister in an anthology published about 15 years ago. It’s only when West Bengal is compared to other states that doubts about Basu’s long stewardship creep in.
People who worked with him in his early years in politics say he strove to model himself on Bidhan Chandra Roy, his hero. If so, the main resemblance was in his relationship with his party. Basu towered over his comrades as Roy had done over other Congressmen. He also had a broader perspective than other Bengali Marxists. Legend had it that he was on first-name terms with Indira Gandhi, whom he had known as a student in England. Others (P.N. Haksar, Bhupesh Gupta, Mohan Kumaramangalam) had also fallen under Rajani Palme Dutt’s spell and returned to join either politics (Congress or communist), law or the civil service. But surrounded by sycophantic civil servants, Basu was intolerant of independent appraisals. More:
Master of the politics of feasibility
Ashok Mitra, a younger comrade, pays homage to Jyoti Basu.
India is to be without Jyoti Basu. The new reality will not sink easily into most minds. For most of the past half-a-century, the man had filled a crucial spot in the country’s political landscape. It was a movable spot since circumstances were evolving all the time, but the picture would never be complete without this man’s position and point of view. Allies, permanent or temporary, would be there to seek his counsel. Adversaries, too, would be aware of the differences and the weight of his views. The general feeling of a lack of coordinates, which has accompanied the announcement of his passing, is therefore understandable. This vacuum of feelings will, however, be different from person to person. That too owes to the magic of his persona. He had a way of interacting on the individual plane with whomever he met.
And this is perhaps what charisma is about. After Subhas Chandra Bose, Jyoti Basu was the next idol the Bengali masses created and clung to. More
A patriarch remembered
Gopal Krishna Gandhi, till recently the governor of West Bengal:
“See my condition,” he said, “I have to meet you like this, sitting on my bed.” It was the day prior to his 95th birthday. “I can’t hear in one ear, and can’t see in one eye.” “You are not missing much,” I suggested, “there is so much around us one doesn’t want to hear and so much one does not like to see.” He smiled a wan smile, a variant of the dry smile of his that has been the photographer’s despair. I am not sure he had heard me.
When I went to call on him again on December 13, 2009, a day prior to my demitting office, he was weaker. He started the conversation by saying, “I cannot see, I cannot hear…” More
CPM’s Vajpayee? More like CPM’s Advani
And in The Indian Express, Saubhik Chakrabarti:
The biggest scandal in 30-plus years of Left rule in Bengal (of which two-thirds saw Basu as CM) is not poor industrial progress but the fate of the aam aadmi. There are tons of statistics. A few will make the point.
A warning first. Whenever Bengal’s data is assessed it is useful to remember Kolkata (Calcutta during Basu’s days in office) is an outlier, being by Bengal’s standards far richer and more modern than the rest of the state. To understand Bengal, one should look at its other 18 districts.
Consider, for instance, that Bengal’s official Human Development Report estimates that over 78% of Purulia’s population is below the poverty line. This is a shocking statistic for a state ruled for 20-plus years by a progressive moderate CM, whose policy centrepiece was agrarian change. Overall poverty levels in Bengal are better only compared to states like Bihar, UP, MP, Orissa and Jharkhand.
Bengal does poorly in schooling — its dropout rates for primary students are worse than all states save Bihar and some North-eastern states. Assam has more schools per lakh people. Himachal Pradesh has a better teacher-student ratio. More: