India's father of Communism dies, aged 95

Kolkata mourns for Jyoti Basu, who ruled West Bengal for 23 years

Tens of thousands took to the streets of Kolkata yesterday, mourning the death of Jyoti Basu, the man considered the patriarch of Communism in India and who was chief minister of West Bengal for a record-breaking 23 years.

The 95-year-old politician, who was twice offered the opportunity to become India's first Communist prime minister but turned down the chances, died of multiple organ failure yesterday morning. He had been in hospital since the beginning of the year.

Outside the clinic, from where his coffin was driven away in a hearse, large crowds gathered, some brushing away tears, others raising their hands in Soviet-style salutes.

"The passing away of Basu from the scene marks the end of an era in the annals of Indian politics," said India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, reflecting the breadth of Mr Basu's six-decade political career, from a staunch campaigner for India's independence to the chief minister of the state of West Bengal.

Perhaps most of all, he will be remembered for a series of radical land-reforms that handed out parcels of land to more than two million farming families in a state with a recent memory of deadly famine.

Born into an upper-middleclass Bengali family, Mr Basu completed his training as a lawyer in London then returned to India and made contact with leaders of the Indian Communist Party. In 1944, encouraged by members of his party, he became involved in the country's railway unions and subsequently the head of a new, combined group. Representing the union, he was first elected to the Bengal Assembly in 1946; 11 years later, after India's independence, he had risen to become leader of the assembly's opposition.

In 1977, having served as a home minister in a state government dominated by the Left, he was elected chief minister of the state, a position he would hold until 2000. His would be the longest-serving elected Communist government in the world.

As such, as head of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) he oversaw a period when the Leftist parties of India were dominant in West Bengal, a state where hammer and sickle banners still fly and where citizens – particularly in Kolkata – pride themselves for being informed, literate and involved. Only the southern state of Kerala even comes close as a stronghold for the politics of the left in India.

"He is the patriarch for the Indian left and he certainly led the movement since the 1940s," said Abhirup Sarkar, an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata

A dispassionate assessment of Mr Basu's time as head of West Bengal would have to conclude that his record was mixed. In 1943, Bengal, still under British rule, suffered a widespread famine that claimed perhaps three million lives as the colonial government continued to export rice from the state.

In that context, Mr Basu's most vital contribution may have been thesweeping land-reforms that empowered the landless and helped create a deep pool of support for the left. Yet critics say his failure to counter the power of trade unions also led to a failure to bring in foreign investment to an area sorely lacking in jobs and wealth creation. Others have accused his administration of stagnating, particularly in its later years.

Mr Basu's final decline coincided with the dramatic fall from grace of his party. His successor as chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, tried to invigorate the state's economy by tempting in heavy industry, but when he invited Tata Motors to build its tiny Nano car on prime farmland, he ignited a farmers' revolt which threw into doubt the values on which communist rule in the state had long been founded.

The car plant was eventually shelved after a bitter struggle, but the party was already on the skids.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence