Born On: July 8, 1914
Born In: Calcutta, West Bengal
Died On: January 17, 2010
Career: Political Leader
An icon of India's Communist movement who could have been the world's first democratically elected Marxist Prime Minister of India; Jyoti Basu was a charismatic and powerful political leader. By ruling West Bengal for unbroken 23 years, he became the first longest serving Chief Minister of any Indian state. He ruled the Left Front government in West Bengal from 1977 to 2000. He was a politician who held the political scene of India like a colossus for nearly six decades. He is remembered for establishing the Marxist wing of the Communist Party of India (CPM) in 1964 and his undying efforts for bringing peace to West Bengal after violence caused by Leftists, known as Naxalites, in the late 1960s and 1970s. It was due to his secularism that his state escaped religious clashes when the whole country was undergoing violence between Hindus and Muslims.
Jyoti Basu was born as Jyotirindra Basu in an upper middle-class family at 43/1 Harrison Road, now Mahatma Gandhi Road, in Calcutta, West Bengal. He was born as the third child to Nishikanta Basu and Hemalata Basu. While his father was a doctor from Barudi village in Narayanganj District, East Bengal (presently in Bangladesh), his mother was a homemaker. Basu started his schooling at the age of six from Loreto School at Dharmatala in Calcutta in 1920. It was here that his name was shortened to Jyoti Basu by his father. In 1925, he moved on to St. Xavier's School and completed his bachelor's degree in English from Presidency College, University of Calcutta in 1935. He went to London thereafter to pursue his higher studies in law from University College London.
Basu was known to have attended lectures in political organization and constitutional and international law under Harold Laski at London School of Economics. Here, he gained interest in politics through Communist Party of Great Britain with Indian student activities. Ben Bradley, Rajani Palme Dutt, and Harry Pollitt were some noted thinkers to influence Basu to great extents. In 1940, he completed his studies and became a barrister at the Middle Temple. He returned to India and actively participated in politics. It was in 1944 that he first got involved in trade union activities when he was appointed to work against railway laborers by CPI. On the merging of B.N. Railway Workers Union and B.D. Rail Road Workers Union, Basu was elected as the general secretary of the union.
Entry into Politics
Basu first entered politics in England when he stood for the cause of Indian independence and joined India League and London Majlis. With active participation, he became the general secretary of London Majlis and was also given the responsibility of organizing a meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru on the latter's visit to London in 1938. On his success, Basu was again appointed for arranging a meeting with Subhash Chandra Bose. With this, Basu started introducing political leaders to the Labor Party in London. His friend in London, Bhupesh Gupta introduced him to the Communist Party of Great Britain. On his return to India, Basu contacted political leaders and registered himself as a barrister in Calcutta High Court.
Basu, however, never practiced, as he was always keen on joining politics. He was elected as the secretary of Friends of Soviet Union and Anti-Fascist Writers' Association in Calcutta. He was initially asked to create links with underground party leaders but was later appointed on the trade union front from 1944. Bengal Assam Railroad Workers' Union was formed in the same year and Basu became the first secretary. In the 1946 Bengal Provincial Assembly elections, Basu was selected from the Railway Workers constituency. Apart from Basu, two other communists were appointed, Ratanlal Brahman and Rupnarayan Roy. This move can be marked as the major turning point in the life of Jyoti Basu, for whom there was no turning back thereafter.
Ever since Basu was elected in the Bengal Provincial Assembly, his political career started flourishing and soon, he became one of the most popular influential leaders India ever had. In 1946-47, when Bengal experienced the Tebhaga movement, Basu made an active participation. He was selected in the Central Committee of CPI in 1951 and later served as the secretary of the West Bengal Provincial Committee of CPI from 1953 to 1961. Basu was appointed to the assembly from Baranagar in 1952 and served in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly in years 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1991, and 1996. He was one amongst the 32 members who walked out from the National Council in 1962. On the formation of CPI (Marxist) in 1964, Basu was elected to its Central Committee and Politburo.
With the split of CPI in 1964, Basu was one of the first nine members of the Politburo to be selected in CPI (M). He became the Deputy Chief Minister of West Bengal in 1967 and 1969 in the United Front government. He escaped a narrow death in 1970 at the Patna railway station by Anand Margis. In the 1971 assembly elections, CPI (M) was the largest party to win; however, the party refused to form a ministry, and hence, the president's party came into power. With the 1972 elections, Congress came to power again and as such, Basu lost the elections from Baranagar Assembly constituency.
Tenure as a Chief Minister
With a victorious win in 1977 elections, Basu became the Chief Minister of the Left Front government which he held for 23 years, thereby creating history in Indian politics. He attained his position on June 21, 1977 and instituted a panchayati raj system to help poor peasants and small farmers. He is best memorized for his efforts on maintaining harmony and peace in West Bengal when violence against Sikhs broke out throughout India in 1984 with the assassination of Indira Gandhi. He proved his power yet again with the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. In 1996, Basu was almost appointed as the Prime Minister of India thereby becoming the first communist head of a country, but was forced to reject due to a mutual decision from his party.
He later regretted and regarded this decision as a "historic blunder". Instead, H.D. Deve Gowda from Janata Dal became the Prime Minister. Due to his declining health, Basu retired from the Chief Ministership of West Bengal on November 6, 2000. However, he was re-elected to the Politburo of CPI (M) in 18th Congress 2005 elections. Though he requested to retire from the party in 2006, but the then general secretary Prakash Karat extended his tenure up till 2008. Although he was not elected on the Politburo in 19th Congress elections in 2008, he continued to be a member of the Central Committee and was regarded as a special invitee to the Politburo.
Basu married Basanti (Chabi) Ghosh on January 20, 1940. However, she died two years later, on May 11, 1942, leaving the entire family in a state of shock. Such was the trauma that his mother passed away a few months later. Basu married for the second time to Kamala Basu on December 5, 1948. The couple had a girl child on August 31, 1951, but the baby suffered from dehydration and diarrhea and died few days later. The next child born was Khoka, or Chandan as everyone knows, in 1952. Kamala Basu died on October 1, 2003.
After being diagnosed with pneumonia, Basu was admitted to AMRI Hospital in Bidhannagar, Kolkata on January 1, 2010. Over the next 15 days, he suffered multiple organ failure with his condition becoming critical. He died on January 17, 2010 at the age of 95. He was draped in the national flag and paid respect with a guard of honor on January 19, 2010 at Moharkunja Park before his body was handed over to SSKM Hospital, Kolkata for research. Basu opted to donate his body and eyes for medical research in 2003, instead of being burnt at the crematorium.
1914: Born in Calcutta, West Bengal
1920: Admitted to Loreto School, Dharmatala, Calcutta
1925: Shifted to St. Xavier's School
1935: Completed bachelor's degree and went to England for law
1938: Organized meeting with Nehru in England and returned to India
1940: Completed studies and became a barrister
1940: Married Basanti Ghosh on January 20
1942: Basanti died on May 11
1944: Appointed in CPI
1946: Elected to Bengal Provincial Assembly
1948: Second marriage to Kamala Basu
1951: Elected to Central Committee of CPI
1952: Son Chandan was born
1953: Became the secretary of West Bengal Provincial Committee
1962: Suspended from National Council
1964: CPI (M) was founded and Basu became the member of Politburo
1967: Became Deputy Chief Minister of West Bengal
1969: Sworn as Deputy Chief Minister of West Bengal for the second time
1970: Became the Vice President of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions
1977: Became the Chief Minister of West Bengal on June 21
1996: CPI (M) rejected Basu's posting as the Prime Minister of India
2000: Resigned from Chief Ministership due to health issues
2003: Kamala Basu died on October 1
2005: Re-elected to Politburo
2008: Became a permanent member of the Central Committee
2010: Admitted to AMRI Hospital for pneumonia on January 1; Died on January 17 at the age of 95 years; Donated the body to SSKM Hospital for research on January 19