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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz