Jyoti Basu (8 July 1914 – 17 January 2010) was an Indian politician belonging to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from West Bengal, India. He served as the Chief Minister of West Bengal from 1977 to 2000, making him India’s longest-serving Chief Minister as of 2010 of any Indian state. He was a member of the CPI(M) Politburo from the time of the party’s founding in 1964 until 2008. Since 2008 till his death in 2010 he remained a permanent invitee to the central committee of the party. On his death, the last of the founding Politburo members of Communist Party of India (Marxist) passed away.
- Born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), July 8, 1914.
- Graduated from Presidency College. Bar at Law from London.
- Returned to India in 1940. Joined CPI.
- In 1944 he was a functionary of Bengal railway workers’ union.
- In 1946 he was elected to the Bengal legislative assembly.
- He won from Baranagar assembly constituency in 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967, 1969 and 1971. Lost seat in 1972 snap polls.
- In 1964, he helped set up CPI-M.
- In 1967, deputy chief minister in a coalition government in Bengal.
- Became chief minister of West Bengal June 21, 1977 & headed Left Front government till Nov 6, 2000.
- Narrowly missed a chance to become India’s prime minister in 1996 after his party’s veto.
- In 2000, he announced his retirement from active politics and stepped down as chief minister on health grounds.
- In 2004, he played a key role to stitch an alliance between the Left parties and UPA.
Jyoti Basu was born on 8 July 1914 as Jyoti Kiran Basu into an upper middle-class Bengali family in Calcutta. His father, Nishikanta Basu, was a doctor from the village of Bardi in Dhaka District, East Bengal (now in Bangladesh), while his mother Hemalata Basu was a housewife. 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).
After completing his undergraduate studies in 1935, Basu set for England for higher studies of Law. It is said that Basu attended lectures of Harold Laski in late 1930. It was in England that Basu was introduced to the activities of politics through the Communist Party of Great Britain. There he was inspired by noted Communist Philosopher and prolific writer Rajani Pam Dutt. In 1940 he completed his studies and qualified as a Barrister at the Middle Temple. In the same year he returned to India.
In 1944 Basu became involved in trade union activities when CPI delegated him to work amongst the railway labourers. When B.N. Railway Workers Union and B.D. Rail Road Workers Union merged, Basu became the general secretary of the union.
This led to his election to the Bengal legislative assembly in 1946. In 1957, he became leader of the opposition in the West Bengal assembly.
Mr. Basu was appointed home minister in West Bengal’s first Left dominated United Front government in 1967 but the coalition was brought down and central rule imposed after Bengal was rocked by a huge wave of Maoist violence.
But when the Left coalition came to power in 1977 with a much more comfortable margin, Jyoti Basu was unanimous choice as chief minister, a post he held until 2000.
His government was credited with restoring political stability and bringing in land reforms which gave poor farmers an opportunity to have their own holdings.
However, he was also accused of failing to stand up to powerful trade unions which resisted his attempts to bring in foreign investment and rejuvenate local industry.
His opportunity to become prime minister came in 1996 when a federal coalition was cobbled together by some Left, lower caste and regional parties.
Many felt that his long experience in holding together a Left coalition in Bengal would be invaluable in controlling an often fractious grouping at federal level.
But Mr Basu’s party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) decided to support the coalition from outside and not join the government.
Some commentators believed that if he had become prime minister it might well have prevented the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party from coming to power.
Often described as a Fabian Socialist rather than an orthodox Communist, Jyoti Basu worked by consensus, successfully managing coalitions, while showing a healthy respect for the viewpoints of others.
“He made Communism look respectable,” according to Sabyasachi Basu Roy Choudhuri, a Calcutta-based political analyst.
Analyst Ashis Chakrabarti said Mr Basu’s success indicated social democracy had a future that Communism did not.