Death of an ailing 96 year old would not be expected to push regular headlines into the obscurity of the middle pages yet the demise of Jyoti Basu has evoked memories from both admirers and detractors which dominate national dailies this Monday. Though thoughtful in nature these obituaries only serve the purpose of bolstering the belief that 'the man' would not be forgotten in a hurry - a welcome reassurance considering the quality of public memory being ruefully 'short' in our country.
While regrets resound on "what could have been" had "the best Prime Minister India never had" had actually led the United Front government the spectrum of mass opinion never deny his rightful place as one of the most respected leaders the nation ever had. Much admired for his administrative prowess and ability to expedite consensus inside a party bound by Spartan principles his critics found his open Anglophilism and general insouciance for political opposition unacceptable. As children we grew up in Calcutta in times when the police were only heard of when they were bloodying their batons breaking up some opposition rally or the other. Mamata Banerjee, Basu's bete noire turned admirer, bore the brunt of such political arrogance on many occasions in that period. The image of Jyoti Basu which dominates most minds from our generation, growing up in the nineties, to be that of an old patriarch, reclusive in nature, reluctant in ushering revolution - the very plank that defined him in his prime. Still he strangely maintained that iron grip over proceedings in the Secretariat and the heart of the people who renewed his mandate in spite of vicious hand-wringing at many of his decisions. This generation still believe Bengal's unenviable skill at strangling industry is his legacy for us to bear. They willingly overlook the "land reforms movement" which installed Communists in the first place and line up arguments which make the "Comrades" look too power-drunk to have seen their own downfall coming. And not surprisingly Basu became the face of that unchallenged government over the years.
But amidst all the frustrations one must be reminded that it was Basu who invited Telecom and IT industries to the state later taken up with gusto by Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the present incumbent. His intentions were reformist in nature but with time his actions increasingly bore the seal of circumspection seen in aging patriarchs. A permanent status quo seemed to be the writ from the Writers'. Considering the hurdles Bhattacharya finds himself grappling with presently Basu's stand comes off as one of wise inertia in hindsight. May be his understanding of the very people he ruled prompted his decisions and made him the longest serving Chief Minister of any state ever. With the death of able organisers like Anil Biswas, Harkishen Singh Surjeet and now Jyoti Basu the present party leadership has some very big shoes to fill and going by their recent show at the hustings things can only spiral down from here. On the same note it seems poetic justice for someone like Prakash Karat who blocked Basu's way to the PM's post and now finds himself explaining every drubbing that his policies have ensued. Given the loaded possibility of the Communists falling in a heap in the coming 2011 Assembly Elections one cannot ignore the curious coincidence of the sun setting on the Hammer & Sickle Flag within a year of the last sunset in Jyoti Babu's long and illustrious life.