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Death of a Salesman – Jyoti Basu

Note: “Death of a Salesman” is the title of a play by the radical humanist American playwright Arthur Miller

“Outside the hall there were members of an organisation called the Indian Progressive Study Group. They were handing out free pamphlets with a bold front page slogan bannered in red exhorting readers to: Expose and denounce the crime steeped lackey Jyoti Basu enemy of the Indian people. The pamphlet itself was packed with the sort of rhetoric that the unconverted seldom bother to read. Couched in almost tantric tantrums of blood and fire, it denounced Basu personally, the CPI(M) collectively, put in a plug for Charu Mazumdar and ended with the prediction that “Jyoti Basu and his masters will be burnt to ashes in the raging flames of the Naxalbari struggle”.

 Death of a Salesman - Jyoti BasuThe above quote is from an article written in the August 23, 1972 issue of Economic and Political Weekly, “Jyoti Basu Goes West” by Farrukh Dhondy. The subaltern sections in South India have a unique tradition of ‘judging’ a person’s life in his death bed. Mourning the death of a person, they list down each and every deed and misdeed of the person and pass the verdict whether the person in question will end up in heaven or hell. The tradition is steeped in the culture to the extent that at times it manifests in the political unconscious of the politically conscious radicals and I have to confess am no exception (though I defer the label ‘radical’).

I had to choose the quote above, to bring to attention an important episode in the career of the late ‘veteran communist’ and former Chief Minister of West Bengal, ‘Comrade’ Jyoti Basu, which the media, in its euphoria to pay homage to the deceased, had ‘unconsciously’ thrust deep into the recesses of the collective memory: the custodial death of Charu Mazumdar, the founder – leader of CPI (M-L), during the tenure of Mr. Jyoti Basu as the Deputy Chief Minister also in charge of the Home ministry. It was in reaction to the cruel murder of their leader, who inspired the youth across the country, the study group mentioned in the above article chanted their ‘tantric tantrums’.

No one can adhere to the un-political politics laid down by Charu Mazumdar, which in the words of Lenin can be denounced as a sort of “infantile disorder”. But his unwavering commitment to the liberation of the oppressed masses deserves veneration beyond words. It was this Charu Mazumdar and young students in thousands who were inspired by his call to revolution, that were murdered cold bloodedly in every nook and corner of West Bengal, again I would like to emphasize – during the tenure of Jyoti Basu as Home Minister and Deputy Chief Minister.

It has to be remembered that Jyoti Basu emerged as a powerful player in the political field of West Bengal treading a ruthless blood path. It has to be reminded so that the memories of those who sacrificed their lives for the well being of the toiling masses kept alive, in the spirit of the writer Mahasweta Devi.

It also has to be reminded at this juncture that Jyoti Basu was not as much of a venerable person holding uncompromising values, as the media in its euphoria and selective amnesia is projecting sky high. The Left Front’s regime under ‘comrade’ Jyoti Basu, was accused of many scams involving his son Chandan Basu. The Bengal Lamps scam, the Salt Lake land scam, the SUV car scams are just a few to mention.

But, the scam that never surfaced, the one which ended in the Nandigram episode is nothing else than the CPI (M)’s much touted land reforms. As many academic researchers have come to note recently, the land reform in Bengal was hopelessly unequal during Basu’s tenure. In practice, the land distribution was mediated by the grass root cadres of the CPI(M). The beneficiaries were granted land on the condition that they owe their political allegiance to the party if not active participation. This gradually evolved to a covet form of land grabbing by the cadres themselves from the rural and tribal masses finally leading to the blood bath in Nandigram.

In short, Jyoti Basu’s career began with a blood bath of the youth and paved way for a massacre in Nandigram. One has to give the credit that Jyoti Basu was a master wielder of the reins of power, a supreme bureaucrat who apportioned the lands of the masses, with the perspicacity of a technocrat.