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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Comrade Jyoti Basu—The Last Red Stalwart of India

Comrade Jyoti Basu

Its the man and man alone, who creates history. Despite many crest and thrust, people will finally emerge victorious and go in freedom in a classless society free from exploitation of any form. – Comrade Jyoti Basu

 

Born on 8 July, 1914 as Jyotirindra Basu into an upper middle-class Bengali family at 43/1 Harrison Road (now Mahatma Gandhi Road) in Calcutta, parented by Dr.Nishikanta Basu & Smt. Hemalata Basu, Jyotirindra belonged to the era of the intellectual Bengali gentleman discarding his wealth and groping for the realization of an impossible dream, that of a classless Communist India, others being the lot of Bhupesh Gupta, Indrajit Gupta, Syed Mansoor Habibullah; throwing away an inheritance and infusing Marx, Lenin and Engels into their romantic lives. Affectionately called as “Gana”, Basu’s schooling started at Loreto School at Dharmatala, Calcutta (now Kolkata), in 1920. It was there where his father shortened his name and he became Jyoti Basu. However, he was moved to St. Xavier’s School in 1925. Basu completed his undergraduate education and received the honours in English from the Hindu College (renamed the Presidency College in 1855).

It was in the land of the Great Britain that Marxism touched Gana’s heart, ironically, through a Britisher of mixed (half Punjabi) parentage, Rajani Palme Dutta, who introduced him to the texts of Marx. After becoming a Barrister, Basu subsequently joined India League and London Majlis, through which he encouraged Indian students in the UK to join their country’s freedom struggle. Through the Majlis, he arranged meetings of Indian leaders like Pandit Nehru and Subas Bose to the helm of the Labour Party leadership. His strong belief in Communism even brought him close to the heels of becoming a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, but he ultimately went back to India and joined the Communist Party of India.

On Jan 20, 1940, he married Smt. Basanti (Chabi) Ghosh. On May 11, 1942, Mrs Basanti Basu breadth her last. Her death was a great shock to Basu’s mother who passed away a few months later. Basu married Kamal Basu on Dec 5, 1948. She gave birth to a girl child on Aug 31, 1951 at Sishumangal Hospital. Few days later the baby died of diarrhoea and dehydration. She gave birth to her Khoka, who is now known as Chandan in 1952, after they lost a baby girl to diarrhoea in 1951.

Despite family opposition, Basu joined the CPI and remained a ``briefless barrister’’, spearheading the railwaymen’s trade union and building the CITU in a significant way in West Bengal. Beside organising the movements of the Railway Labourers, he led a movement by the teachers demanding a hike in salary. Basu received tremendous support from Bengal’s tallest politician of that era. Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, who mentored a little known Basu in the same way as Nehru had once raved about a new Opposition politician called Atal Behari Vajpayee. When the Communist Party of India split in 1964, Comrade Basu became one of the first nine members of the Politburo of the newly-formed Communist Party of India (Marxist).

After 2 brief stints as the Deputy Chief Minister of West Bengal in 1967 and 1969, he finally rose to become the First Communist Chief Minister of West Bengal, and remained so for a record 23 yrs from June 21, 1977 to November 6, 2000 when he resigned citing health reasons, and was succeeded by fellow CPI(M) politician, Comrade Buddhadeb Bhattacharya who is the incumbent CM of Bengal till date. As of now, Gana holds the record for being the longest-serving Chief Minister in Indian political history.

A great moment came in his life during 1996. Comrade Jyoti Basu was on the doorsteps of becoming the consensus leader of the United Front for the post of Prime Minister of India. However, the CPI(M) Politburo later decided not to participate in the government, a decision that Comrade Jyoti Basu later termed a historic blunder. Had he been sworn-in instead of Mr. H. D. Dewe Gowda of the Janta Dal, India would have earned a rare place in History for being the only democratic Country led by a Communist Prime Minister.

Besides his mainstream political activities, Comrade Basu was also elected Secretary of Friends of Soviet Union (FSU) and Anti-Fascist Writers and Artists Association. He also travelled different parts of the World representing party or CITU. Some times he travelled specially the Western world in search of investment in West Bengal.

Its an unquestionable fact that Comrade Jyoti Basu was the Mikhail Gorbachev of Indian Communism. He united rural Bengal to the cause of socialistic principles in a manner that none can ever hope to equal. He was a statesman amongst politicians and a democrat amongst Communists. Under his affluent yet humble leadership the Communist Party of India grew at Bamboo’s rate, making the state of West Bengal as its unconquerable Fort Knox. His admirers will insist that Basu’s was probably the most liberal face among Communists on Earth. His critics will lash out at him saying that the Country’s longest-reigning Chief Minister was a failure, saying in the end he did nothing for Bengal. But in my humble yet politically-nonpartisan point of view he did a lot for India: for the country’s secularism, Left consciousness, political equilibrium, ethnic relations and, in general, for democratic well-being. A man of diminutive physical stature, Jyoti Basu made his place among the tallest statesmen of the country.

With CPI(M) in its declining phase, with West Bengal slipping out of its hand, the loss of its only stalwart leader only means a heavy loss to Communism in India. With the departure of this great Comrade, our great land has lost a great son into the great eternity of History. Comrade Basu will be remembered for his personality, his dedication, his contribution and his unfailing devotion to the cause that today finds few takers both among politicians as well as the public at large.  Even after his retirement as Chief Minister, he remained politically active as a CPM Politburo member. “Communists never retire”, he said, and till the end, showed that he meant that in letter and spirit. He was truly the Last Red Stalwart. May the path to his perpetual home be easy and may his Soul rest in peace. Amen. Adieu Comrade Jyoti Basu.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

United “smaller” States of India— A necessity or a delusion?

The Telengana Rashtra Samiti’s hullabaloo over creation of a separate Telengana state out of the northern districts of Andhra Pradesh and the Centre’s quite approval to its demand is apparently leading India into its largest administrative change since 1950’s State Reorganisation Commission. If regional politicians and political parties like the Telengana Rashtra Samiti, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Koshal Kranti Dal etc. (whom I shall refer hereby as “regional separatists”), have their way, then the Indian Union is en route to a massive constitutional process of carving out as many as 13 possible states increasing its total tally of states to a whopping 41.

But the question I am trying to find an answer is whether dividing India into smaller states really the best way to govern it better? Are the states of the Indian Union too large to be taken care that now it needs to transit into United “smaller” States of India? Or is it just plain delusionary politics of the regional separatists to fulfill their intentions of grabbing power easily.

Before I proceed to my quest, I have compiled a list of states that are currently in demand for formation which I would like to share with you. The list comprises of as many as 13 states alongwith Telengana and Gorkhaland which have been really in the spotlight ever since last year.


No.

Demanded State

Parent State(s)

1

Telengana

Andhra Pradesh

2

Harit Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh

3

Bundelkhand

Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh

4

Poorvanchal

Uttar Pradesh

5

Vidarbha

Maharashtra

6

Saurashtra

Gujarat

7

Kodagu

Karnataka

8

Gorkhaland

West Bengal

9

Bodoland

Assam

10

Mahakoshal

Odisha

11

Bhojpur

UP, MP and Bihar

12

Mithilanchal

Bihar

13

Gondwana

Madhya Pradesh

Number of states in the Union if the demands are met: 28(existing) + 13(demanded) = 41


The State Reorganisation Commission in 1955 sought for division of Indian Union into linguistic-based states, which was implemented in the States Reorganisation Act of 1956. But in the current political scenario where indentifying and sharing water resources and the concept of inclusive growth becoming inevitable, there seems to be only one viable option: formation of a second State Reorganisation Commission that will look into carving out states based on the current geo-political scenario, to accommodate the regional political and ethnical interests of the people.

One cannot wholly dismiss the idea of creation of smaller states, given the fact that the last such attempt by creating Jharkhand, Uttaranchal (later renamed as Uttarakhand) and Chhattisgarh have yielded positive results. According to the 11th Plan document approved by the National Development Council, these three states have achieved growth rates exceeding the set targets in the 10th Plan, whereas that of their parent states Bihar, UP and MP have declined considerably. Remember, Uttarakhand was once considered the poorest, most backward part of UP. After statehood, it has become a growth champion.


Gross State Domestic Product:

State Expected Achieved
Jharkhand 6.9% 11%
Chhattisgarh 6.1% 9.2%
Uttarakhand 6.8% 8.8%

Courtesy: India Today


Judging by these statistics, the campaign for smaller states articulates the demand for a fair share of the natural resources. The experience also advocates that smaller homogenous states are rather efficiently governed and attention can be focused on the growth and equity issues in the regions.

I base this judgment because the states that the regional separatists have been demanding for years have one thing in common, that despite being rich in natural resources they are struggling with low developmental index. Telengana is a region boasting of coal and other minerals, but monsoon-dependent farming has led the region to remain stuck in poverty. Their demand for Hyderabad can also be justified because this will give them a head-start in the race for development as its perhaps the only developed region in the whole Telengana hinterland. Gorkhaland agitation derives its root because of poor utilisation of resources which has led to pockets of underdeveloped regions. Bundelkhand comprises of 14 natural resources but is hunger-ridden. Vidarbha is another example of a neglected region with farmer suicides making headlines every other day and having a average per capita debt of Rs. 50,000, with people complaining it to the babus sitting at Mumbai. Mahakoshal, demanding to carved out from the resource-rich poverty ridden Western Odisha is yet another instance.

But my the positive vibes I get from this analysis is always disturbed by my personal observation with politics all these years. Whether it is a small state like Sikkim or a big one like Bihar, good governance depends on the extent to which power is devolved. While we boast regarding the GSDP boom of Uttarakhand, we must also acknowledge the fact that this was a result of tax-exemption put forth by the Central Government during its creation, thus attracting industries giving it an artificial boost. Also we cannot ignore the fact that grabbing power is always easy in a smaller state, either on basis of money or muscle. I support this argument on the basis that in Jharkhand, an independent MLA Madhu Koda was able to rule for years just on the basis of his bank balance. This shows that even a vagabond roaming on the streets has a chance to become someone in the political ranks of a smaller state. Creating smaller states also leads to dominance of multiple regional parties in the national level thereby causing political imbalance and making the Central Government lose its national character. This will lead to serious implications, much more than what the UPA government had to face in its first term in office thanks to the now “Fourth Front” leaders.

Despite this fear, we also need to take comfort from the fact that if the other great democracy (USA) can afford to have 50 states and still be a superpower why can’t a United “smaller” States of India?

Although I am unable to find any reasonable conclusion out of this discussion, but a significant part of me believes that division is the road to development, and the way Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand have performed, I find this voice to be gaining ground. For now I can leave with the thought that a United “smaller” States of India is a necessity having its delusions, that some of the “regional separatists” are right in their arguments although they too are driven by greed of power than being moved by the tears of the people concerned. I rest my hope on the Government of India that they will see to every aspect of this case before carving out any state. Jai Hind!

 

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