Jyoti Basu: The Unkindest Cut
The more I look back I get angry. But that's not the problem. The problem is that my anger quotient increases manifold as I visualise what's happening and what lies in the future. Because then I see the eulogies pouring in, dollops of adjectives thrown in generously.
I know many of you will castigate me for tearing apart a man who has just passed away. But unfortunately, Jyoti Basu, the Communist patriarch, will remain for me a man who killed two generations of Bengal's talent. And paved the way for the demise of a land which held much promise for the country.
A man who presided over Bengal's industrial decline (my editor calls it an industrial wasteland), a man who enforced an education system where millions of students learnt "A, B, C, D" after six years of schooling, a man who ensured Bengal's brain-drain and led to the economic marginalisation and decline of the state - Basu did not just attempt a stranglehold on his party and its cadres - the CPI(M) - he wanted an iron grip over the state which he did achieve for more than two decades.
In the process, he turned students into his cadre-base, leaving most with no option but to join the CPI(M) or sing paeans in praise of the 'party' to get a job in the state.
Jyoti Babu also killed Bengal's 'Amul'. Set up in 1956 with a dream to make it the dairy hub of the country by Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, widely considered as the mentor of post-Independence Bengal, Haringhata Dairy Firm was conceived much before Operation Flood orchestrated by Verghese Kurien in Gujarat. The 2000-acre unit was once a blue-chip unit that used to produce more than 30,000 litres of milk and used to feed a large portion of Kolkata till mid-1980s.
History will not treat him kindly, despite his personal achievements - longest reign as Chief Minister, the last Bhadralok (gentleman) Communist, poster boy of India's Communists, et al. My generation will never forgive him -he was not the pragmatic patriarch who many love to paint him outside Bengal. No one will care much that the scotch-drinking Communist (or communisht) enjoyed his vodka with some tender-coconut water. He will be remembered as the man who led Bengal and Bengalis into an era of disillusionment; something which has been imbibed in the mindset of the state.
Ironically Basu passed away at a time when that very disillusionment is something that the people in West Bengal is finally giving vent to as the CPI(M) looks set to lose the reigns of the state.
RIP, Jyoti Babu. You have not left behind any legacy.
January 21, 18:36 hours, IST; In response to the comments that have come in, here's what I have to say:
As a journalist, I have spent a considerable amount of time in rural Bengal, covering poverty, starvation, political clashes, elections and Nandigram. I know that the credit for land reforms in Bengal goes to Jyoti Basu. What many don't remember is that it was conceived by two stalwarts of the CPI-M - Hare Krishna Konar and Benoy Chowdhury - and it was the party (CPI-M) which ensured the implementation of the programme. Basu just happened to be the Chief Minister at that time. Also, Operation Barga (the land reforms programme) had its limitations, limitations which perhaps is now being manifestated in the gorwth of tribal disenchantment and Maoist base in Bengal. Land reforms benifitted the Bengali peasantry in the state but completely excluded the tribal farmers of Bengal. Also, in Operation Barga, by not handing over actual ownership made the peasantry completely dependent on the CPM for renewing and maintaining their control over the land.
As a friend points out: "From a political science perspective, Basu was a great politician and a terrible leader."
Since I covered the 2004 Lok Sabha elections in Bihar, I have seen a great similarity in how Lalu Yadav had picked up from where Basu left Bengal. Lalu started with a great education plan, then realised that educated Biharis would not keep him in power for long and like Basu destroyed the entire system. The destruction of the education system: not just removing English from primary education, but staffing the entire teacher's and professors corps with party cadres and publishing the most atrocious propaganda as textbooks in the social sciences.