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The Marxist who almost became PM
Published on 18 Jan. 2010 12:16 AM IST
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KOLKATA, JAN 17 (IANS): He was a Marxist to the core who was equally at home with bourgeois democracy and capitalist ideas. If destiny had been on his side, Jyoti Basu would have become India’s prime minister in 1996. But that was not to be, thanks to his dogmatic Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) which ruled that no one from its ranks could head a multi-party regime that would not be able to implement Marxist programmes. Basu swallowed the diktat silently. But within months he questioned the wisdom of fellow Stalinists and described the party’s decision not to form the centre-Left United Front government as a “historic blunder”. That perhaps was the only time the very ‘bhadralok’, or gentleman, Basu broke the CPI-M’s strict rules of discipline. He got away with it because he was the prima donna of Indian Communism, a product of aristocracy who embraced Marx in London and became the longest serving chief minister in the country. By the time he gave up the reins of West Bengal in 2000 citing health grounds, Basu had been the chief minister for an incredible 23 uninterrupted years. He was widely respected across the political spectrum. Many a prime minister consulted him on matters of national importance. Of course he had his critics. But for someone married to an ideology that has had few takers in India, he was one of the most successful politicians in the world’s largest democracy. Born July 8, 1914, in Kolkata, the son of a doctor was schooled in Loreto and St. Xavier’s. He graduated from the Presidency College of Kolkata with an honours in English in 1935. He then studied law in London where he came in contact with the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), the alma mater of many an Indian Communist. Basu’s early associates included the veteran British Communists Harry Pollitt, Rajani Palme Dutt and Ben Bradley. In London, he joined the India League and the Federation of Indian Students in Great Britain. On returning to India, Basu joined the then undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) and in 1944, three years before the British Raj ended, started working among railway workers. He got into electoral politics in 1946, getting elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly. Winning elections then became a habit for Basu. After independence, he was repeatedly elected to the West Bengal legislature, starting in 1952.

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