Jyoti Basu (Bengali:জ্যোতি বসু) 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.
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), and 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 labourers 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 Labour 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.
Flourishing Years of Politics:
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 being Chief Minister 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, 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.
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.
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 diarrhoea 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 honour 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.