Man, Maverick, Marxist ~ JB & The Party
18 January 2010
KOLKATA, 18 JAN: Jyoti Basu, who declassed himself to become a Marxist, always prided himself in being a creature of his party ~ the CPI-M ~ but his long political career of over three score and ten years could also be seen as a tale of how he and his party fed on each other and diluted the ideology both professed to practice. Ironically, one of the most heartfelt tributes paid to him hours after he passed away came from his old friend whom his party identified as its worst enemy ~ former chief minister Mr Siddhartha Sankar Ray who recalled the days of Basu's grim struggle as a Marxist trying hard to make ends meet.
Basu's wife fretted fondly and asked Mr Ray to “persuade” Basu not to give away to his party the Rs 250-Rs 300 he used to get as MLA allowance so that she could “support the family”. “Fish and meat” had been permanently banished from the Basus' daily meals, Mr Ray reminisced. Such was his commitment to his party and the ideology he embraced. But things began to change once he became firmly entrenched in power.
Just as he grew in stature relying on his party machinery to stay in power, so did his party strike deep roots using his charisma and clipped accent. In the process, a rot set in that compromised each other's commitment to the people. All over the state, party functionaries of all denominations went about cornering privileges and power in the name of serving the poor and the downtrodden and Basu acquiesced in the loot of state sources. It was Jatin Chakraborty, the then PWD minister and RSP leader, who blew the whistle first by alleging Basu had instructed him to illegally give government orders for lamps to a company his son was associated with. Chakraborty lost his job and was eventually expelled from his party. Then, a Marxist of unimpeachable record and the second man in the Basu Cabinet, Benoy Chowdhury, bemoaned he was in a “Cabinet of thieves”. Within 24 hours of his stunning statement, he was made to deny his words and blame it all on the media which had “misquoted” him.
Basu was certainly aware of his limitations and his mode of Marxism was passed off as “pragmatic Marxism”. It was actually a compromise and an unstated understanding between him and his party that none would try to upstage the other. Hence, when Keshpur became a citadel of Trinamul Congress and CPI-M supporters and activists had to flee their homes, Basu rued : “The party didn't even tell me the situation there was so bad.” The confession, though, came only after the CPI-M recaptured Keshpur. The understanding between the party and its longest-serving chief minister very nearly ruptured when Basu's ambition to become the first Marxist Prime Minister was thwarted by his party. He couldn't contain himself and violated party discipline by castigating the Politburo and then Central Committee decision to insist he turn down the offer of becoming Prime Minister as a “historic blunder”. Anyone else would have been expelled from the party. But the CPI-M could ill-afford to touch him. And Basu too didn't carry his pique further; he accepted the party decision in the name of the Marxists’ credo of democratic centralism which meant members were free to hold any view, but once the party finalises its stand it can't be contradicted. Only, in Basu's famous case, he first contradicted the decision of the party's highest policy-making body and then fell in line! But that's how it had to be; Basu and his party had, after all, learnt to tolerate each other.