Friday, January 29, 2010

The legacy of Jyoti ‘candlelight’ Basu

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    • We who grew up as children in Jyoti’s Bengal, called him Jyoti ‘The Candlelight’ Basu. We do not remember using electric lights during the endless night which lasted 23 years. I say this because I lived there from my birth in 1965 to middle age in 1995, and endured 18 years of his misrule.
    • There was not a single day when we could sit or study or sleep in peace. I remember sleepless mornings and nights in the hot summers, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year — he merely sipped his scotch on the rocks in air conditioned comfort when we had 14-hour power cuts. Yes sir, he was a pucca sahib. When he was asked in the late Sixties why West Bengal was not investing more in the power sector, he famously replied “What shall we do with more power, eat it?” The great man thought that the hungry and the dispossessed whom he ruled would eat it. He went on to eat crow, but let’s move on.
    • Gokhale’s “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow” became Basu’s “What India does today, Bengal ain’t gonna do in my lifetime”.


    • The other thing I recall vividly is violence, the blood curdling violence his goons would unleash at the slightest pretext, in the hallowed tradition of Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot. I remember in 1982, 17 Anand Margis (including a nun) were battered to death by his goons in broad daylight.
    • And the best part was that this bhadralok managed to convey a sense of decency when he spoke in his quaint British-accented English about the rights of the working classes, and how his heart bled for them all.
    • The Nandigram incidents only highlighted this aspect of his murderous legacy, and poor old Buddhadeb carried the can for the murder and mayhem that followed. He was the man who said ‘Erom to hoye thake’ (these things keep happening) when a woman was gang raped in broad daylight (Bantala incident) by his goons.
    • While the Mulayams and the Lalus rigged the elections on election day, our barrister babu abhorred such crudities. He started the process five years in advance by tampering with the voters’ lists. There wasn’t anyone like T N Seshan in those days, so he could do whatever he liked. Hundreds of thousands of people suddenly found themselves struck off the rolls. The cadre systematically infiltrated every area of the establishment — the teaching fraternity in the primary schools, the colleges, the universities; the lower level judiciary; the panchayats; the lower rung government officers; and yes, the police. The entire government machinery was taken over by the apparatchiks. And so they went from strength to strength while the rest of India watched and congratulated the man who gave a new meaning to the word panchayati raj. And yet, people still say he was a gentleman. By his own admission, “I’m not a gentleman, I’m a communist”.

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