A Tribute to Veteran leader Jyoti Basu (1914-2010)

A Tribute to Veteran leader Jyoti Basu (1914-2010)

Veteran CPM (M ) leader Jyoti Basu is no more with us. He passed away on 17th January at a Salt Lake Hospital at 11-47. He would have been 96 years this July.

I have the great privilege of meeting him quite closely in my position as the Bangladesh Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata during 1979-81.

A statesman, a politician, a lover of common people and worker, a social reformer and a Barrister-all rolled into one. He was a true internationalist, a true believer and the best of the brightest in left-wing politics. He was Chief Minister for 23 years and resigned voluntarily in 2000.

When he was young, in his student life in Calcutta and London, he wanted to change the living conditions of farmers and workers and all through his life he had devoted his energy towards that end. Land reforms in West Bengal has provided farmers a new confidence in which they have become agents of economic growth and reforms in local governments have instilled them to become self-governing and self-reliant.

Although he was a Communist leader, he was elected successively by people in a multi-party democracy, defeating handsomely all political parties. He was not authoritarian but a democratic leader.

Mr. Basu was pragmatist and he realised that to remove poverty they needed industrialisation in private sectors. His government provided incentives for Indian business people to invest in West Bengal and as a result many non-Bengali businessmen and industrialists poured in money in West Bengal. The skylines in Kolkata were being changed as new corporate buildings and modern-style business houses began to mushroom in several places in and around Kolkata.

He believed in party discipline and because of opposition by a single vote at the politburo he did not accept the post of Prime Minister of India and later he refused to be the President of India. The non-acceptance of the top political positions demonstrated his unparalleled strength of mind, character and integrity. As a result his reputation soared and during his illness Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh came to visit him as a mark of respect to the great leader.

While I was posted as the Deputy High Commissioner of Bangladesh in Kolkata during 1979-81, I had the opportunity of meeting the Chief Minister Jyoti Basu many a time. He was accessible, kind, attentive and very polite to me. Whenever I wanted to meet him, he never said “no” despite his busy schedule and it demonstrated his love and respect for the people of Bangladesh.

I used to meet with Mr. Basu on a regular basis to brief him on events in Bangladesh. He was keen to know about Bangladesh and its people. Often I used to narrate the correct version of events in Bangladesh which often was mis-reported in Kolkata newspapers.
In my dealings with Mr. Basu, I found him very constructive and helpful. There was no doubt about his fine intellect and it was obvious after even the shortest discussion on any subject.

Once I was briefing him about the 1977 Agreement sharing of the Ganges Water, specifically on the augmentation of waters of the Ganges to meet the needs of the two countries, he listened to me very attentively and diplomatically said that it was a matter of the Union government in New Delhi and he could only provide his views, if asked.

At the Bangladesh National Days on 26th March, Chief Minister Jyoti Basu never missed the function at the premises of Bangladesh High Commission and he encouraged cabinet minister for attendance. In 1980 nine cabinet ministers and the Chief Minister Basu graced the occasion.

In fact Mr. Basu directed his ministers and senior officials to cooperate with me in my duties to strengthen the relations between not only between the governments but most importantly between peoples of two countries. My task was made easier in Kolkata.

Mr. Basu was always personally well groomed and had many social graces. His dress (dhoti & kurta) were impeccably white and ironed. He was a perfect gentleman in every way.

He gave me the impression of a leader who was agile, highly intelligent, and tactful politician. He always took a moderate position within his party. He was able to redefine his party and gave it a direction and meaning to rural people in West Bengal.

Despite the age gap and status between us, gradually I became close to him personally and he invited me with my wife to his apartment where he lived with his gracious wife. I was surprised at the simple way he lived and the living room is small and consisted of ordinary furnishings which belonged personally to him. This impressed me very much that because he could have lived much in a big residence with pomp and splendor.

The people of Bangladesh mourn the loss of the legendary figure. The President, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and former President H. M. Ershad of Bangladesh have recounted his contribution to people of Bangladesh and sent condolence messages to his family. On 17th January, the Bangladesh parliament has mourned the death of Jyoti Basu by adopting a motion of condolence unanimously with a one-minute silence in his honour and adjourned the business of the day.

This great leader will be known as a person who was interested in purpose, not process, about policy, about ideas about a willingness to challenge the statusquo. I think he has made giant contribution in demonstrable and substantial reforms for the poor.

The patriarch leader of Communist Party has left a legacy and vision to be imbibed by young generations to come for a better world, and South Asia. The Communist Party (M) will be much poorer without him.

Finally, it was the life of a great Bengali, a man who not only in his own country but throughout South Asia and world was respected and loved. His was a life that mattered. We all pray for the eternal peace of his soul.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva

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