Jyoti Basu was a tall leader, widely respected across the country, but that was perhaps more on account of his innate quality of being a good human being, an able administrator, a person who could rise above the narrow confines of caste, creed, and religion.
But a political figure’s – that too as famous as him – legacy cannot and should not be judged by him being just a good person. It is more important to understand what he did and didn’t for his fellow people.
Today’s newspapers are full of interesting analyses of his life, his doings, and his non-doings. They are interesting because they present a vast 7-decade canvas of Indian politics as it transformed from the last days of the British era to what it is today. Just for this reason the history of Jyoti Basu’s life will remain an important reading in long, long time to come.
History unfortunately is also cruel. And so, along with the agrarian reforms and decentralization of power he initiated in his initial days as the chief minister of Bengal, the history will also recall the championing of destructive policies during his tenure.
Many of the ills that plague today’s Bengal can be traced back to his days at the helm of affairs in the state. To mention a few are causing the industries to flee Bengal, stopping teaching of English in the primary classes, losing crucial first-mover advantage with regard to the use of computers, failing to turn Bengal into a famous tourist destination, politicizing education at every level thereby helping it slide to its nadir, and so on.
All of these were Bengal’s bane but what stands out as the most damaging was the patronizing of militant trade unionism. Stopping work at the drop of the hat, sometimes for petty selfish reasons, became the norm. Not surprising then that the word ‘gherao’, popularized earlier by the SUCI minister Subodh Banarjee, got inducted into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004 owing to its popularity and intensity as a new method of labor action.
Jyoti Basu leaves us at a time when political intolerance has given rise to unprecedented political violence in the rural Bengal. Whether or not there occurs any change in the coming 2011 elections, the dream of a peaceful, prosperous Bengal looks as distant and eluding as ever.
It may sound unpalatable on a day when the great leader lies in state but Bengal owes much of its present-day miseries to the misrules committed during the Basu era.
That’s the reality. That’s how the history of Bengal will visit him time and again, notwithstanding the steady pouring of grief today.
[Image courtesy: Wikipedia]