Live! CM Mamata holds court inside Writers bldg
CM Mamata holds court inside Writers bldg: Indrani says Mamata Banerjee has been mobbed inside Writers’ Building. Protocol thrown out of the window. Mamata says she will hold a janata darbar at her residence once a week. Entire 2-km radius around Writers’, Raj Bhavan taken over by people.
16:58 PM Dragged by her hair, Mamata fulfils her vow:
On January 7, 1993, Mamata Banerjee, then a Youth Congress leader, stormed Writers’ Buildings and sat on a dharna in front of the chamber of then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, demanding justice for an alleged rape victim.
As she refused to budge, the police caught her by the hair, dragged her out and locked her up.
She then vowed that she would only return to Writers’ as the chief minister of West Bengal.
That day has arrived.
16:53 PM Mamata to hold first presser as CM at 7 pm: Mamata Banerjee will hold her first press conference as West Bengal Chief Minister at 7 pm today.
16:47 PM Kanimozhi reaches new home — Tihar Jail:
Kanimozhi has left in a police van for Tihar jail where awaiting her arrival (with bated breath and beating heart) is co-accused, formertelecom minister A Raja.
16:44 PM Mamata enters Writers Building: West Bengal’s new chief minister Mamata Banerjee completes her great march from Raj Bhavan and is now inside Writers Building.
Mamata Banerjee walking to her office at Writers’ Building.
The last time West Bengal saw such massive numbers on the streets was probably when Bengali superstar Uttam Kumar died. Absolutely incredible images. Certainly many mas andmanush-es walking on the mati.
Don’t envy the securitymen flanking her.
16:34 PM Kanimozhi apparently told scribes inside the Patiala House court that she would take the fight forward legally. (As opposed to?)
16:31 PM We shall overcome, sings Bengal:
In Bengal, festivities reign. Indrani says the massive numbers following Mamata Banerjee on her padyatra from Raj Bhavan to Writers’ is singing “We shall overcome” albeit out of tune. Much blowing of conch shells.
The huge press of people outside Writers’ has broken a barricade… unintentionally.
16:27 PM Alagiri in court tomorrow for Kani’s hearing:
Kanimozhi’s stepbrother, union minister Alagiri will be in court for the next hearing tomorrow.
Unconfirmed sources say A Raja asked for an extra ration of coconut oil this morning for his oil bath.
16:23 PM DMK leaders in a huddle after Kani arrest:
Meanwhile, in Chennai, top DMK leaders went into a huddle at the residence of party chief M Karunanidhi in the wake of a Delhi Court rejecting the bail plea of his daughter Kanimozhi .
Senior leaders rushed to the CIT Colony residence of Karunanidhi and Kanimozhi soon after news broke out about the the court verdict.
Karunanidhi was glued to the TV to know about the latest on the fate of his daughter, set to be arrested by CBI, and was apparently upset after the rejection of the bail plea, party sources said.
The next course of action for the DMK, a key ally of UPA, was not immediately known.
R Rajagopalan tweets: Three DMK ministers in Delhi are rushing to Chennai by the evening flight. After Kani arrrest, they advanced their departure.
There were nine DMK ministers in the Patiala House Court today, of which three apparently broke down when they heard their leader was headed to Tihar. Don’t know yet if they are the same three.
16:16 PM Mamata on padyatra from Raj Bhavan to Writers:
Sources say that the DMK is in shock after Kanimozhi’s arrest.
In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s meeting with Governor MK Narayanan is over and she now heads to Writers’ Building. And yes, she’s walking the kilometrefrom the Raj Bhavan to Writers. Indrani says at least a thousandpeople following her.
16:04 PM Kalmadi, 8 cronies chargesheeted in TSR scam: Just in: Former CWG OC chairman Suresh Kalmadi has been chargesheeted by the CBI in the 107-crore Time Scoring scam. Kalmadi and eight others have been charged with cheating and forgery.
Barkha Dutttweets: Kanimozhi asking for bail on premise of being a woman makes zilch sense. Let’s not drag gender into this. Equal crime; equal punishment.
15:35 PM Time for Vande Mataram, not Inquilab Zindabad: Back in West Bengal, Indrani is outside the Writers’ Building now. West Bengal CMMamata Banerjee is expected to be therre by 4.30 pm. She says people from all walks of life are waiting in and around Writers for hours with bouquets, garlands and Trinamool Congress flags. A Trinamool follower says: Days ofInquilab Zindabadare over — it’s time now to sayVande Mataram.
15:24 PM Kanimozhi hugs husband before leaving for lockup:
In Delhi (much virtual travel happening), Kanimozhi was apparently stoic when the verdict was read out, but brokedown outside court. She hugged her husband and a fewfamily members who had come to the Patiala court.
It’s one thing to say she was expecting the ‘no bail’ verdictand quite another to actually be led into jail.
The court rejected her bail owing to the gravity of the crime — accepting a bribe of Rs 214 crore — and that she can influence witnesses.
15:10 PM Mamata holds closed-door meet with governor:
Back in Bengal: Mamata is still at Raj Bhavan holding a one-on-one meeting with governor MK Narayanan. Issues being discussed include law and order and economy.
No prizes for guessing, which woman grabs your attention now.
15:06 PM Kanimozhi weeps as she’s led into lockup:
We will going back and forth between Bengal and Delhi; between Mamata Banerjee and Kanimozhi.
In Delhi, DMK MP Kanimozhi was in tears as she was led to the lock-up. She will be sent to Tihar jail at 4.45 pm. In Tihar she will be allowed a mat, a fan, medicines, magazines, and will have an attached bathroom.
Her cell neighbours are a pimp and a spy.
Kanimozhi can now appeal to the Delhi High Court for bail, saysCBI laywerAK Singh andwill be produced before the court tomorrow. Remember, theSupreme Court has directed that this case beheard on a day-to-day basis.
14:58 PM Mamata leaves for Writer’s Building:
Back in West Bengal, where it’s Mamata Banerjee’s moment in the sun, Indrani says she has left Raj Bhavan forWriter’s Building.
Still not known whether she’s walking it. Sea of people, as expected outside Writers.
No reactions yet from the DMK or from Kanimozhi’s father, former Tamil Nadu CM Karunanidhi.
Of the nine DMK MPs in court three MPs dissolved into tears. Sigh.
14:46 PM A Raja’s wife comforted Kani in court:
Moment of irony: A Raja’s wife was the first to comfort Kanimozhi in court after her bail plea was rejectd.
14:42 PM Kanimozhi in court: Was expecting jail verdict:
After hearing the verdict, Kanimozhi inside the courtroom said she was expecting the decision.
Awaiting her arrival at Tihar, will be former telecom minister A Raja and a host of 2G accused.
Kani and Sharad Kumar will be allowed access to books and magazines in jail, much like A Raja.
14:39 PM Kanimozhi, Sharad Kumar to be sent to Tihar:
Breaking: DMK MP Kanimozhi and Kalaignar TVmanaging director Sharad Kumar have beenarrested. The Special CBIcourt has refused bail for both accused in the 2G scam. This means its Tihar jail for both.
The DMK MP waschargesheeted by the CBI for her alleged role in the 2G spectrum case along with former Telecom Minister A Raja.
Special CBI Judge O P Saini, exclusively trying the 2G case, pronounced his order minutes ago, quashing her bail plea along with that of Kalaignar TV’s Sharad Kumar.
The court earlier had reserved its order on their bail pleas for May 14, and postponed it till today.
Kanimozhi has been charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act for taking a bribe through Kalaignar TV — a channel run by DMK — in which a sum of Rs 200 crore was routed from Shahid Usman Balwa’s firm DB Realty.
Kanimozhi and Kumar hold 20 per cent stake each in Kalaignar TV while former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi’s wife Dayalu Ammal holds 60 per cent share in it.
Indrani says a state government employee she met was extremely bitter about Mamata. Refusing to be named he said Mamata is only about gimmicks. Just because she declined the official bulletproof car, doesn’t mean she is honest. (See our 12:47 pm post).
Prophesies thatif Mamata runs the state the way she runs the railways, “we’ve had it.” He also forsees a dictatorship. And warns: Shobi to didir kheyale chole, kheyale ki aar rajjo chalano jaay? Khayale akta club ba shongothon cholte pare.” (Everything runs on Didi’s whims. You can run a club or an organisation on a whim, not a state.)
14:22 PM Will Mamata walk it to Writers from Raj Bhavan?:
Back to Mamata for a moment.
After the ministers are sworn in she is headed to Writers building where the first cabinet meeting is expected to be held at 4 pm. Buzz is that the she may walk the distance.
14:19 PM India, Pak resume talks on Sir Creek dispute:
While we wait for the West Bengal cabinet to be sworn in, here’s some other news.
India and Pakistan today began two-day talks on the Sir Creek issue as part of a bilateral dialogue process, with the two sides holding parleys on the maritime boundary dispute after a gap of four years.
The talks which are being held by the Defence Ministry in Rawalpindi are part of the bilateral dialogue process that recently revived after a gap of over two years in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
During the last round of talks on the Sir Creek issue four years ago, the two countries made significant progress in resolving the dispute over the 96-km estuary in the Rann of Kutch separating India’s Gujarat state from Pakistan’s Sindh province.
14:05 PM Mamata greets Buddhadeb first at Raj Bhavan:
Apparently, the first person Mamata Banerjee greeted inside Raj Bhavan was former WB chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Again, a first, in terms of decorum and courtesy for state politics.
14:00 PM Big moment for Mamata fan as she waves back:
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s 44-member cabinet still being sworn in.
Indrani says there are barricades all around Raj Bhavan.
A middle-aged man squatting on the street outside Raj Bhavan told her he had been there since 11 am just to catch a glimpse of Mamata Banerjee.
He’s come all the way from a village in Sunderban, leaving home at 8.30 am. But, he says the effort has been worth his while.
“I waved to her and she waved back,” saidSubroto Mandal, a daily wage labourer. He said he won’t budge from the spot till Mamata leaves Raj Bhavan for Writers. “I have sacrified my day’s earning for someone who rewrote the history of the state, but I don’t regret it,” says Mandal.
13:42 PM Kanimozhi bail plea adjourned to 2.30 pm: Just in: A few hours breather for DMK MP Kanimozhi. Her bail plea hearing has been adjourned to 2.30 pm. The court decision today will mean whether it’s jail or bailfor Kani, who hasbeen named as co-conspirator in the 2G scam.
13:38 PM The Banerjee-Chatterjee connect:
The chief minister seems to have brought to West Bengal politics a courtesy that was missing earlier.
Apparently, one of the first things she did after her electoral victory is to call up former speaker and sacked CPI-M senior leader Somnath Chatterjee. She also met him personally and invited him to the swearing-in ceremony. Chatterjee could not attend as he is not in Kolkata now.
The Chaterjee-Banerjee connect: Twenty-seven years ago, in 1984, after being nominated as the Congress candidate for the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat, Mamata had sought the blessings of her rival Somnath Chatterjee and stunned the state by defeating him.
13:29 PM After CM Mamata, 44 ministers take oath:
Mamata’s cabinet to include 44 ministers (not 43 as we told you earlier), 37 from TMC, 7 from Congress. The CM has included Muslims, women Scheduled Castes, giant-killers, in her cabinet.
Mamata will hold the first cabinet meeting at 4 pm today at Writer’s Building.
Beautiful image: The shining brass plaque outside CM Mamata Banerjee’s office at Writer’s Building is being polished one last time. Writer’s has now got a revamped waiting room outside the CM’s office.
On the streets, Kolkata celebrates with dhak, dhol and the now omnipresent green gulal.
13:15 PM Pranab and PC catching up. Buddhadeb with Biman Bose seated next to him watchesand probably thinks he neverwould have believed this day would dawn in hislifetime.
13:12 PM Former Ficci chief secretary Amit Mitra sworn in:
We’ve told you earlier, but to reiterate, Mamata has scored two firsts. Bengal’s first woman chief minister and the firstnon-Marxist government in 34 years.
Swearing-in ceremonyof ministers taking place. It should take at least an hour after whichthe cabinet will be invited to tea by the governor.
Incidentally, the portfolios have not been announced, but FICCI chief secretary Amit Mitra is likely to be the finance minister.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has led a nine-member ‘delegation’ to the swearing-in ceremony. An unheard of gesturein Bengal politics given the acrimony between the two parties.
Can see Dr Amit Mitra at the dias now.
Clear, composed, calm. Mamata Banerjee takes oath. Governor Narayanan congratulates her. The ceremony is at the Raj Bhavan lawns.
Names of her 43-member ministry being read out.
13:01 PM Electrifying moment as Mamata Banerjee takes oath as West Bengal CM. Reds the speeech in Bengali.
Back to the Raj Bhavan, Kolkata.
Indrani confirms that Buddhadeb, Biman Bose, Ashim Dasgupta are inside the Raj Bhavan. Ditto P Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony.
Governor MK Narayanan has take his seat on the podium.
Quickly before the swearing-in begins, a tweet from Sushma Swaraj
Blooper after blooper. I am tired saying that the Government is embarrassing the country. Let us wait until the whole list is scrutinised.
For reference see our 10:53 am post
It was West Bengal ex mayor Partho Chatterjee who invited former CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his wife Meera for the swearing-in. While Buddhadeb confirmed his presence, his wife hasn’t. Chatterjee was ushered in to the Bhattacharjee drawing room graciously, where he spoke to the couple for 15 minutes.
12:47 PM Indrani who is following Mamata’s convoy to Raj Bhavan says ecstatic followers are blocking her path. Will 1:01 deadline be met?
12:47 PM Mamata leaves for Raj Bhavan in old Santro:
OK, countdown begins. Mamata has left for Raj Bhavan. Senior Left Front leaders have been invited.
— 43 ministers will be sworn in by governor MK Narayanan
— Oath of office speech in six languages.
— Male ministers to wear dhoti kurta for the ceremony.
— Soumitra Roy, key member of the rock band Bhoomi also at Raj Bhawan. Sings a ditty for Mamata.
12:42 PM Mamata’s courtesy a first for Bengal politics:
This is from the Telegraph, Kolkata. Apparently when Mamata heard that the invitation letters to the swearing-in ceremony were to be faxed, she chided her aides and sent Union minister Mukul Roy, who will hold additional charge of railways, to the offices of the Left allies.
Even her detractors say this kind of courtesy has never beenextended by the Left — one of the reasons the party lost — it’s arrogance.
Hello, mic testing, at Raj Bhawan… Mamata’s astrologers have advised her to take oath at exactly 1:01 pm. And that’s when history will take place.
12:33 PM Mamata leaves for Raj Bhavan in old Santro:
Indrani says Mamata Banerjee will leave for the Raj Bhavan in her old, black Santro. Shuns the special bulletproof car she is now entitled to.
Here’s some info on the Raj Bhavan: The palatial building built in 1803 was once the residence of the Viceroy of India, till the British empire moved to Delhi. It is now called Government House and is the residence of the Governor of West Bengal.
12:28 PM Up ahead at 1 pm: Incidentally, both Kanimozhi and Mamata are up for the 1 pm slot — Kani for jail/bail, Mamata to make history as the first non-Left government in 34 years and West Bengal’s first woman chief minister.
12:23 PM New TMC govt to meet at 6 pm at Writer’s:
Indrani Roy Mitra says Trinamool party sources say Mamata Banerjee will hold the first meeting of the newly sworn-in ministry at 6 pm at Writer’s building.
Writer’s building is the secretariat of the state government of West Bengal. The building originally served as an office for writers of the British East India Company, hence the name.
12:19 PM Buddha, Biman to attend Mamata’s swearing in:
Rediff.com’s Indrani Roy Mitra reporting from Kolkata says former West Bengal CM (feels strange using the word ‘former’) Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose are expected to attend the swearing-in ceremony at Raj Bhavan.
The parents of Tapasi Mallik, the teen who was raped and killed at Singur has also been invited, but no confirmation yet of whether they will be attending.
Apparently Mamata sent Partha Chatterjee early last morning to the Palm Avenue flat to invite the outgoing chief minister and his wife to the swearing-in.
12:10 PM 3,292 guests when Mamata takes oath:
At least 3,292 people have been invited to Raj Bhavan, Kolkata, where Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee will be sworn-in as West Bengal’s first woman chief minister. The invitees include the who’s who of politics, business, art and culture.
The swearing-in will happen at 1:01 pm. We’ll get you the details as it happens.
12:02 PM Shamefaced (hopefully) CBI withdraws Wanted list:
After goofing up on its ”most wanted” list twice, the CBIhas now withdrawn the list from it’s website.
The investigating agency has also removed the Red Corner Notice linked to the list for the time being.
“The entire list is being reviewed. We have no plan to recall the list from Pakistan,” Secretary, Internal Security in the Home Ministry, U K Bansal, said.
However, it will not recall the list from Pakistan.
11:56 AM Why randy Arnie was called the Octopus:
Dirt on Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnie was apparently called ‘long hands’ by his housekeeper/assistant who had his love child because of the way he groped her and other women workers. Mildred Baena, 50, told a friend how Schwarzenegger, once dubbed ‘The Octopus’ over his wandering hands, liked to touch the bottoms of his female staff.
11:51 AM ED to probe Amar money laundering case:
Just in: The Allahabad High Court has directed the Enforcement Directorate to probe allegations of money laundering against former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh. The court today turned down his writ petition.
It had been alleged in the FIR that Singh during his tenure as the Chairman of UP Development Council, when the SP was in power in the state, had helped many private companies in getting a number of contracts which had resulted in financial irregularities to the tune of Rs 500 crore.
However, Singh had rebutted the charges saying the post did not empower him to award contracts to private parties.
11:30 AM Read: Rahul in Blunderland:
Before you step out and grab the Armstrong book we told you about,read this from the Hindu.The major allegation Rahul Gandhi made against the Mayawati government about mass rapes and mass graves in the state.
Rahul Gandhi’s predilection to shoot from the hip is proving to be a challenge for his party managers who have found themselves picking up repeatedly after the First Family heir. Yet in Uttar Pradesh recently, the gaffe-prone Congress general secretary ‘” famously described by an American official as a “neophyte’ without the chutzpah to become Prime Minister ‘” outdid himself.
11:19 AM ‘Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs’: Celebrity cyclist Lance Armstrong used the performance-enhancing drug EPO, a team-mate said of the seven-time Tour de France winner.
Tyler Hamilton claimed that both Armstrong and he used EPO during the 1999 Tour. Lance Armstrong, who has always denied such claims, said on his Twitter page: “Never a failed test. I rest my case.”
Hamilton served a two-year ban for blood-doping from 2005-2007.
The BBC quoted Hamilton, as saying: “I saw [EPO] in his refrigerator. … I saw him inject it more than one time.”
Hamilton told the CBS programme 60 Minutes, “like we all did. Like I did, many, many times.”
While the jury is still out on that, read Lance Armstrong’s autobiography It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey back to Life.
11:14 AM Pak Taliban claim onus for Peshawar blast: Just in: FLASH: The Pakistan Taliban or the Tehrik e Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack on the US consulate convoy in Peshawar. See our 11:02 am post for the background.
11:05 AM Half of France believes Strauss-Kahn was set up:
A French poll has found more than half of people believe that former International Monetary Fund president Dominique Strauss-Kahn was set up in connection with a sexual assault plot.
Strauss-Kahn, who has been granted bail by a New York court, was accused some days ago of sexually attacking a maid at the Hotel Sofitel.
According to Sky News, the survey, which was taken before the 62-year-old”s first court appearance on Monday, showed that 57 percent of respondents believe the Socialist presidential hopeful was set up.
11:02 AM Bomb hits US consulate car in Peshawar:
The bbc.co.uk reports that a roadside bomb has hit a US consulate vehicle in Peshawar, Pakistan,wounding some Americans.
Two armoured vehicles were travelling on University Road when the blast occurred. One of the vehicles was damaged.
A passer-by, a Pakistani citizen, was killed in the attack, police said. Pakistan has seen a spurt in violence since al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed earlier this month.
10:53 AM 2nd ‘wanted’ slip but list won’t be recalled:
In yet another goof-up, NDTV reported last night that one of India’s 50 most-wanted in Pakistan, is actually in Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai. This is second time the Home minstry has messed up. The Times of India had earlier revealed that another person on the most-wanted list is out on bail and lives in Thane, a suburb of Mumbai.
The government in the aftermath of this ‘human error’ today ruled out recalling the ’50 most wanted’ list given to Pakistan, but said the document is being reviewed.
“The entire list is being reviewed. We have no plan to recall the list from Pakistan,” Secretary, Internal Security in the Home Ministry, U K Bansal told reporters here.
Heads (smallish ones, have fallen).
The CBI acted immediately and suspended and transferred some offcials responsible for the goof up. Bansal said responsibilty has been fixed and action has been taken.
He also said that the Home Ministry will conduct an exercise to ensure that there is no such mistake in the future.
10:36 AM Former IMF chief gets $1 mn bail, home detention:
In international news, former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was granted bail by a New York court shortly after he was formally indicted on all sexual assault charges.
The court agreed to free Strauss-Kahn from a New York City jail on bail terms of USD 1 million in cash and also on the condition that he would remain under house arrest in a Manhattan apartment under the watch of armed guards.
Strauss-Kahn is allowed to stay with his wife in the apartment. On June 6, the court will hold an arraignment hearing in which the exact charges will be revealed.
The former IMF chief, who was indicted on all seven counts, is accused of groping and mauling a Guinean maid in his room at Sofitel hotel in Times Square and forcibly tried to have oral sex with her.
10:29 AM Up ahead today:
Good morning. Big day ahead for Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee — she takes oath today as West Bengal chief minister. Mammoth TV screens at key spots across Kolkata for live coverage. WB’s first woman CM!
Then, the CBI court will decide on whether DMK MP Kanimozhi will get bail or go to jail. She has been named a co-conspirator in the 2G scam. Court decision expected after 1 pm.
Also up today is the hearing in the CWG scam — Suresh Kalamadi and cronies. may be charged in the time scoring case.
Left icons vanish from Writers’ Buildings
KOLKATA: Strokes of fresh paint are wiping out more than the existing colour on the walls of Writers’ Buildings. A 35-year-old communist legacy is quietly vanishing. Photographs and paintings of iconic leaders Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin in particular have made a quiet exit from ministers’ chamber walls in the past week.
CPI minister Srikumar Mukherjee, for instance, had an oil painting of Lenin in his chamber. It was not seen on Thursday.” All my personal belongings in the room have been sent to me by my private secretary. I have not taken any office property, but all the photographs were rare collections and are personal,” Mukherjee said.
The painting of Lenin was gifted to him by an employee, Mukherjee said, and it was sent to his party office along with framed photographs of Jagadish Bose, Satyen Bose, Albert Einstein, Megnad Saha, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Rabindranath Tagore because they were all rare photographs from his personal collection. A photograph of Che Guevara, however, continues to be on the wall outside his room, and Mukherjee wondered how it could still be there.
Marx, Lenin and even Stalin graced the offices of most ministers. A photograph of Harekrishna Konar has been removed from the office of former land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah. Konar is a legend in the CPM for spearheading land reforms in Bengal. But framed photograph of Bidhan Chandra Roy, Bengal’s second chief minister, remains in the room. While Mollah was not available for comment, some PWD employees engaged in repair and painting of the chamber said that most ministers had asked for these photographs and there was no instruction for the PWD to remove them.
Former fisheries minister Kiranmay Nanda said he had taken all his photographs with Jyoti Basu as they were personal collections. “I removed them before the elections due to the model code of conduct,” Nanda said, though the EC code does not bar photographs of deceased political leaders.
Bureaucratic shake-up before regime change: With Mamata Banerjee taking over as chief minister of West Bengal on Friday, the state government has begun an unprecedented exercise of checking the antecedents of private secretaries. All private secretaries of the ministers will go on compulsory waiting from the time Mamata is sworn in, say sources. A list is being compiled of West Bengal Civil Service (WBSC) officers who have 10-20 years experience along with their annual confidential reports (ACRs) so that the new ministers can choose their secretaries from it. The general rule is that private secretaries should have between 10 and 20 years experience but since the Left was in power for 34 years, many who have more than 20 years in service continued to be ministerial private secretaries. Many of them may be posted to different places after the waiting period is over, say sources.
Mamata Banerjee walks full distance from log cabin to Writer’s Building
KOLKATA: She stormed into national politics in 1984 defeating CPM’s Somnath Chatterjee and earning the ‘giant killer’ tag. With her party Trinamool Congress’ triumph in the West Bengal Assembly elections, more than 26 years later, Mamata Banerjee has achieved what many considered impossible even a few years back. It is not everyday that a feisty politician embarks on a laborious struggle to take on a 34-year regime single-handedly and still manages to win.
Trinamool checks in at Writers’ Building
The corridors of power at Writers’ Buildings is barely five km from Mamata Banerjee’s Kalighat residence, but it took the gutsy lady a gruelling 4,881 days — the Trinamool Congress was formed January 1, 1998 — to cover that distance. On Friday the 13th, M amata’s Trinamool Congress and the Congress alliance swept the Left Front out of power lock, stock and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
Such was the intensity of the Mamata wave that the poster boys of the Left fell like ninepins and except for a handful of members from the outgoing ministry, most Cabinet ministers faced humiliating defeats. At the time of reporting, the Trinamool-Congress combine had won 225 seats and the Left, just 63 in the 295-member Assembly. The Trinamool alone won over 180 seats, securing a comfortable majority. Just past noon, even as the results were pouring in, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee met the Governor and submitted the resignation of his government, paving the way for Mamata Banerjee to take over the reigns of the state.
On top of the list of losers was the chief minister himself, who lost from the Jadavpur constituency. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta was defeated from Khardah and Gautam Deb was humbled from Dum Dum. Asok Bhattacharya, the undisupted king of North Bengal, fell from Siliguri. And all of them lost to non-political electoral debutants.
The geographical spread of the Left rout extended from the Hills of Darjeeling to the plains of North Bengal, from the dense forests of Jangalmahal to the coastal reaches of West Midnapore, from the urban confines of the state to vast swathes of rural Bengal. Kolkata, Howrah, North and South 24-Parganas returned all the Trinamool and Congress candidates and even in the red bastion of Burdwan, Mamata Banerjee short work of her Left opponents.
“This is a victory for Maa, Mati, Manush. This is a verdict against years of exploitation, agony and oppression. I am humbled by this victory,” said Mamata Banerjee around noon when she emerged from her home in south Kolkata amid a sea of frenzied supporters. “People of Bengal got independence for the second time,” she added.
“It was solely Mamata Banerjee’s hard work that paid off in Bengal,” said union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, perhaps summing up the 2011 elections in remarkable brevity.
“It is an unexpected mandate. The Left Front humbly accepts the people’s verdict and promises to be a responsible opposition,” said a joint statement from Left Front chairman Biman Bose and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
In 2009 Lok Sabha polls there was a swing of about 9% votes away from the Left Front. This time, the swing away from the Left was an additional 1.5%. The only consolation for the Left was the 40% votes that went their way.
Life has come close to imitating it now. With Bengal voting for a historic change, the foreign media is camping outside the narrow by-lanes of 30B Harish Chatterjee Street, to understand the ‘Mamata’ phenomenon. Her ouster of the world’s oldest elected Communist government is being covered by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the National Public Radio of Washington, BBC, France 24 and Al Jazeera. Global media interest is focused on this one Indian state where Communists have been thrown out of power by a lone woman.
Mamata all set to enter Writers’s Building
Mamata becomes first woman CM of Bengal
India Blooms News Service
Kolkata, May 20 (IBNS): The wheel of political fortune turned full circle on Friday as Mamata Banerjee finally took oath as the eleventh Chief Minister of West Bengal and gained control of Writers’ Buildings, the red-painted edifice of power in the heritage hug of Kolkata from where she was thrown out once by the communists who captured it for over 34 years.
The erstwhile rulers of West Bengal- former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee graced the swearing-in- watched the historic moments of West Bengal’s first woman chief minister Mamata Banerjee reading out the oath in chaste Bengali.
His merry band of 43 ministers only followed their leader and took oath in Bengali.
Mamata was administered the oath of office and secrecy by Governor M K Narayanan on the southwest lawn of the 208-year-old the governor’s residence, the Raj Bhavan, at 1:01 pm.
Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram were among the many top leaders present on the occasion.
Besides Buddadeb Bhattacharjee, Left Front chairman Biman Bose was also present, in a show of political courtesy that was long missing in the state.
Bhattacharjee was invited along with his wife Meera by Deputy leader of the TMC Legislature Party Partha Chatterjee, who personally went to their Palm Avenue residence in the first visit by any Trinamool leader since the party’s inception in 1998.
Top names in politics, business, art and culture attended the starry function though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi could not attend owing to their preoccupation.
It was an over three-fourth majority against the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front that had sealed Banerjee’s long held claim over the hot seat of Bengal, a state ruled by the reds for 34 straight years.
When state election results were declared on May 13, the Congress-TMC alliance, led by Banerjee, won a thumping 227 seats in the 294-seat Assembly, while the Bhattacharjee-led Left were reduced to a mere 62 seats.
Forty-three ministers take oath besides Mamata, a number that comes in contrast to her earlier assertions of having a small cabinet.
Reports said that the final figure swelled thanks to her promise of representations from all regions and communities of the state and also commitments to her allies.
The Congress will have seven ministers in Mamata’s cabinet, who herself resigned from the post of the Union Minister for Railways on Thursday, while the remaining 36 reportedly belong to her own party Trinamool Congress (TMC).
The list of ministers from the TMC includes Amit Mitra, Partha Chatterjee, Manish Gupta, Subrata Mukherjee, Abdul Karim Chowdhury, Sadhan Pandey, Upen Biswas, Sabitri Mitra, Bratya Basu, Madan Mitra and Noore Alam Chowdhury.
Unprecedented security arrangements have been made for the much-hyped function.
Kolkata Police are said to be leaving no stone unturned to ensure the security and order.
Quick response teams under the command of senior deputy commissioners have been deployed in and outside the Raj Bhavan compound and in front of the state secretariat Writers’ Buildings.
A two-kilometre radius around the Raj Bhavan, Shahid Minar and Writers’ Buildings has been sanitized. Officers were posted on all tall buildings near the area.
Giant screens have been put up at the Shahid Minar grounds and also at Metro Channel, near Esplanade, for the live telecast of the swearing-in ceremony.
After the swearing-in ceremony Banerjee will head for the refurbished state secretariat Writers’ Buildings in nearby BBD Bagh, to formally take charge of her new office.
Mamata Banerjee was born on Jan 5 1955, in Kolkata to a lower-middle class family to Promileswar and Gayatri Banerjee.
She began her political career with Congress as a student leader and became the general secretary of the Congress state women wing.
Mamata majored with History from the Jogamaya Devi College, under Calcutta University. Later she earned a master’s degree in Islamic History from the University of Calcutta.
But the turning point of Mamata Banerjee came in 1984 when she became a giant killer by defeating CPI-M leader Somnath Chatterjee from the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat and pitch-forked herself in the rough-and- tumble of national politics that is intrinsically linked to the state from where she hails.
She also became the General-Secretary of the All India Youth Congress and became one of the leaders close to the late Rajiv Gandhi.
But West Bengal remained Mamata’s priority and her single point agenda was defeating the communists. In 1991, Banerjee fractured her head in an attack by Lalu Alam, a rowdy of the CPI-M, at the famous Hazra crossing of Kolkata, the scene of many protests by the leader in her neighbourhood.
Mamata lost a seat in 1989 in an anti-Congress wave, but came back in 1991 general elections, having settled into the Calcutta South constituency. She retained the Kolkata South seat in the 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009 general elections.
In 2004 when all other members of her party Trinamool Congress lost, she could manage to hold on to her seat. In 2004 Lok Sabha elections, she was the only Trinamool Congress MP from West Bengal.
In the Rao government in 1991, Mamata Banerjee was made the Union Minister of State for Human Resources Development, Youth Affairs and Sports, and Women and Child Development.
Differences with Congress party and the party’s leaders policy of cozying up with the Marxists prompted her to found Trinamool Congress in 1997.
In 1999, Mamata Banerjee made the gamble of joining the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. She knew she would be losing the Muslim votes for joining the saffron alliance, but she still chose to join the NDA owing to her differences with the Congress.
She became the Railways Ministry.
The first taste of victory in West Bengal came in 2000 for Trinamool Congress when they won the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
The next year, she quit NDA cabinet and again went back to hold the hands of Congress though that did not translate into much seats in West Bengal state elections. The alliance could garner only 86 seats.
Mamata Banerjee lost the Kolkata corporation in 2005, owing to defection of mayor Subrata Mukherjee to Congress again after she fell out with her former colleague.
But 2006 assembly polls came as a shocker for Mamata Banerjee. Trinamool Congress could win only 30 seats while the Left Front boasted its 235 seat strength in assembly and set out to industrialize West Bengal in its own terms.
But 2006 also became a turning point for Mamata Banerjee with the outbreak of the Singur movement. The communists seized about 1000 acres of land in the fertile region of Singur, barely 40 km from Kolkata, against the wishes of the farmers to hand over the plot to Tata Motors for building a plant for the ultra cheap Nano car.
Mamata Banerjee began a hunger strike for the farmers of Singur at Esplanade East in downtown Kolkata and her fast continued for 25 days in December that year, earning her an iconic status as a peaceful protester. Singur was followed by the CPI-M atrocities in Nandigram. Now Banerjee found a support group in the people of Bengal and the intelligentsia.
Nandigram and Singur produced huge political mileage for Mamata Banerjee. In Panchayat elections in 2008, her party fared well. Also her Singur movement succeeded around that time with the Tatas deciding to pull out of Singur in 2008 and go to Gujarat.
By then Mamata is a national icon for farmers’ movement.
With the Left meeting repeated electoral setbacks, the fortunes of Mamata rose. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls she pulled off another victory by bagging 19 MP seats from West Bengal.
Bagging 19 MP seats alone was no small achievement after her single seat status in 2004. Her alliance partner Congress bagged six. Mamata thus reversed the fortunes of 2004 when she had won only herself.
In June 2010, Trinamool Congress fought municipal election alone and swept the state.
A jittery Congress had not other choice but to form alliance with Mamata for the assembly polls and accept the number of seats she offered.
With a landslide victory in 2011, Mamata Banerjee thus scripted a story of an extraordinary politician whose single minded opposition to the Left Front made her a symbol of fight against the communists of Bengal and eventually made her the Chief Minister of the state.
End of an era
SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY
Jyoti Basu’s was a life of sacrifice, dedication, courage and political genius, and his reward was the inestimable love of the people.
PICTURES: MINATI CHOWDHURY
June 21, 1977: Taking the oath of office as Chief Minister for the first time. Basu remained Chief Minister for 23 years, until November 6, 2000.
“THERE is nothing more valuable in life than the love of the people. We are always ready to sacrifice our lives for a greater cause.
“When the time comes, we should not be found wanting. Our lives should not be spent idling away our time. There should not be any regrets in having led a life of disuse. That has always been my bottom line.”
– Jyoti Basu, in Memoirs: A Political Autobiography, translated from the Bengali, ‘Jatadur Mone Pore’ (As Far As I Can Remember), by Abhijit Dasgupta.
FOR 17 days from January 1, as Jyoti Basu lay fighting for his life in a private nursing home in Kolkata and a steady stream of visitors ranging from political heads to movie stars dropped in to express their concern for his health and wish him a quick recovery, there remained outside the nursing home a silent mass of humanity. They were there from morning until night, their numbers never dwindling, united in hope and prayer for their leader. Their love is the true legacy of Jyoti Basu’s life; their devotion to him, the fruits of his labour; their grief at his passing away and their memory of him, his key to the door of immortality through which very few people have been given the right of passage.
All other accolades and honour bestowed on Jyoti Basu in his lifetime and after his death – the observance of military funeral rites, the congregation of national and international leaders, the countless flower wreaths from heads of industries – paled into insignificance next to the sea of humanity that took to the streets spontaneously and lined up for what seemed like miles outside the gates of the State Assembly building just to file in and salute their hero.
Addressing a victory rally at the Brigade Parade Ground the next day.
Many travelled overnight from districts far and near for a final glimpse of the man who, in many ways, defined the more noble qualities of Bengal – tolerance, kindness, secularism and decency.
The veteran Marxist leader’s passing away on January 17, at the age of 95, from septicaemia owing to pneumonia, which led to multi-organ failure, marked the end of an era not just in West Bengal’s politics but also in the history of the nation. In a political career that spanned more than 50 years, of which he spent an unprecedented 23 continuous years as the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu was a colossus that refused to be shackled by regional politics, and rose to be a national leader of international stature. A pioneer in coalition politics and its most successful practitioner, even in death Jyoti Basu emerged as a great unifying factor of Indian politics, as leaders of all parties rose above their differences to unite in paying homage to the man.
“I turned to him for his sagacious advice on all matters, whether they related to West Bengal or to issues of national importance,” wrote Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his condolence message to Jyoti Basu’s son Chandan Basu. President Pratibha Patil said: “In his passing away the nation has lost a veteran and an eminent public figure.”
“He was a towering figure in our national life, whose noble vision, superb judgment and depth of experience we all valued greatly,” wrote Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in her condolence message.
ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY
The funeral procession from the CPI(M) headquarters on Alimuddin Street to Writers’ Buildings on January 18.
For the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – of which Jyoti Basu was one of the founding fathers – and the Left movement in the country, his absence has created a void that can perhaps never be filled. CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat said that with the passing of Jyoti Basu “an era has passed”. He noted: “An ardent communist, he was one of the few political leaders in independent India who actually deepened democracy, strengthened secularism and brought the working people to the centre stage of Indian politics…. Although he died at the age of 95, he leaves us bereft – because there will be none like Jyoti Basu again.”
Jyoti Basu’s successor as Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, said: “He was the embodiment of the Left Front movement in the country. He was a darling of the working class and the peasantry. His administrative ability was beyond dispute. He never hesitated to take the right decision at the right moment. Above all, he was a man of indomitable courage. I have so many memories of him, which serve as bright sparks in today’s dark situation.”
Born on July 8, 1914 at 43/1 Harrison Road (later renamed Mahatma Gandhi Road) in Kolkata to Nishikanta Basu and Hemlata Basu, Jyoti Basu came from a relatively affluent family. His father was a well-known doctor and his paternal uncles were all well-settled in life; one of his elder uncles, Nalinikanta Basu, was a High Court judge in colonial days.
As a child Jyoti Basu had the unique experience of studying in a girls’ school. When he was six years old, he was admitted to Loreto Kindergarten at Dharamtala in Kolkata. In fact, for a whole year he was the only boy in the girls’ school, until he got admission in St Xavier’s School.
Though “there was not even a whiff of politics”, as he himself put it, in his family, there was always an underlying respect and sympathy for freedom fighters. In 1930, when Jyoti Basu was in the eighth standard, the Chittagong Armoury Raid took place, fuelling patriotic fervour. When news of the event reached his school, the authorities issued a leaflet condemning the raid; a teenaged Jyoti Basu raised his voice in protest. “My stand was simple; the raid had been organised for the good of the nation. Why should the school authorities issue a leaflet like this?” he wrote in his memoirs.
ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY
Members of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau carry the body of the veteran Communist leader into the party headquarters before the funeral procession made its way to Writers’ Buildings.
After passing his Senior Cambridge Examinations and Intermediate from St Xavier’s School and College respectively, Jyoti Basu enrolled in Presidency College from where he passed out with Honours in English in 1935. He then set off for the United Kingdom to become a barrister as per his family’s wishes. While studying law he appeared, unsuccessfully, for the Indian Civil Service examination, and got increasingly drawn into international politics ambient on the London scene in those days.
Through young Indian communists like Bhupesh Gupta and Snehangshu Acharya, who were also in England then, Jyoti Basu met some of Britain’s leading communist leaders, including Ben Bradley, Harry Politt, and Rajani Palme Dutt and attended Marxist study circles. He was also greatly influenced by the anti-fascist lectures of Harold Laski.
He joined the India League under the leadership of V.K. Krishna Menon and later formed the London Majlis, of which he was the first secretary. Apart from generating public opinion for the cause of Indian independence and collecting subscriptions, one of the main functions of the Majlis was to host receptions for Indian nationalist leaders visiting England. In that capacity Jyoti Basu came in contact with Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Vijayalaxmi Pandit and others. It was during this period that he decided to dedicate his life to the cause of communism.
Towards the end of 1939, Jyoti Basu set sail for India without even waiting to know the results of the final law examination he had appeared for; of course, he passed. On reaching Calcutta in early 1940, he got in touch with the leaders of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Though he got himself enrolled as a barrister at the Calcutta High Court, rather than taking up practice he engaged himself as a whole-timer with the party.
His primary task was to maintain links with the leaders who had gone underground, provide them shelter, organise secret meetings and collect subscription. Jyoti Basu also got married around this time, but his wife, Basanti, died soon after. Though the party came under heavy criticism for its opposition to the Quit India Movement in 1942, he persisted in his duties unperturbed and threw himself into the task of organising relief work during the famine that ravaged Bengal in 1943.
The young Basu (seated) with his father Nishikanta Basu, mother Hemlata Basu and elder siblings.
At the directive of the party, Jyoti Basu began working with the labour force of the Bengal Nagpur Railway and was instrumental in establishing the B.N. Railway Workers Union in 1944, of which he was the general secretary. The party then nominated him as its candidate from the Railway constituency for the Legislative Assembly in 1946; his opponent was Humayun Kabir, the president of the Railways Employees Association. Jyoti Basu won in spite of the Congress throwing its whole weight behind Kabir and getting stalwarts like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to campaign for him.
The same year, when communal riots broke out in the city – known in history as the Great Calcutta Killing – the CPI played a major role in the restoration of peace by organising innumerable ‘peace committees’. Jyoti Basu and Bhupesh Gupta even met Mahatma Gandhi, who was then in Calcutta, and were advised to form an all-party central peace committee and organise an all-party unity procession. This, however, did not take place owing to the lack of unanimity among all parties in support of the idea. At that time, it was the Muslim League under the leadership of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy that was in power in Bengal.
After Partition, with the departure of Suhrawardy to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), the Congress took over power in the State, with Dr Prafulla Chandra Ghosh taking charge as the first Chief Minister of Bengal in independent India. In the same year, the West Bengal Special Powers Bill, which later came to be known as the West Bengal Security Act, was placed in the Assembly. Jyoti Basu opposed it on the floor of the Assembly on the grounds that the “draconian” Bill gave unlimited powers to the bureaucracy and the police to check public agitations.
In March 1948, the West Bengal unit of the CPI was banned and Jyoti Basu was arrested and imprisoned for three months. In December 1948, he got married to Kamal Basu and had to go into hiding soon after. With Communist leaders being targeted for arrest, he kept changing his residence, and for a while lived with Indrajit Gupta, who went on to become the Union Home Minister and is remembered as a great parliamentarian.
On January 27, 1950, the day after the Constitution was adopted, a Calcutta High Court ruling lifted the ban on the Communist Party in Bengal. In 1951, when publication of the party organ Swadhinata was resumed, Jyoti Basu became the president of its editorial board.
Basu with his wife Kamal Basu at their residence in Kolkata.
The 1952 elections saw the establishment of a united anti-Congress opposition front. The Forward Bloc, the Socialist Republican Party, the Bolshevik Party of India and others came together to form the United Socialist Organisation (USO), which then forged an alliance with the CPI. The alliance came out with a statement that its constituents would contest together and have seat adjustments. The signatories to the statement were Jyoti Basu, representing the CPI, and Ashok Ghosh, representing the USO. The party directed Jyoti Basu to contest the Baranagar Assembly seat. Though it was a new area for Jyoti Basu, he defeated his Congress rival, Harendranath Chowdhury, by 5,429 votes. The CPI won 28 of the 71 seats it contested in the 238-member Assembly, and Jyoti Basu was chosen unanimously as the leader of the party in the Legislature. In September that year he became a father with the birth of his son Chandan.
The next few years saw the Bengal unit of the CPI growing from strength to strength. In 1953, the total number of full-fledged members stood at 5,859 and by the end of 1956, it had increased to 8,727. In this period Jyoti Basu found himself in the thick of a series of agitations led by the party on issues such as the tram fare hike in 1953 and the demands of the All India Teachers’ Cell in 1954, and opposing the proposed merger of West Bengal and Bihar in 1956. In 1953, he was elected a member of the new Central Committee during the party congress held in Madurai.
In the 1957 Assembly elections, too, Basu contested from Baranagar and defeated the Congress’ Kanailal Dhar by 9,415 votes. The strength of the CPI in the Assembly increased from 28 in the previous election to 46, excluding the five winning Independents backed by the party. In 1952, the Communists were denied the status of the main Opposition party in the Assembly on flimsy technical grounds, but this time their strength could not be ignored and Jyoti Basu was formally made the Leader of the Opposition.
In 1959, when the movement organised by the CPI against the food crisis in the State was at its peak, Left leaders and workers were rounded up by the police and thrown into prison. The party instructed Jyoti Basu, who was one of the leading figures in the movement, to go into hiding and continue to lead the movement.
In the 1962 elections, Jyoti Basu was re-elected from Baranagar, defeating the Congress’ Dhirendranath Chatterjee by 13,412 votes. Meanwhile, Sino-Indian relations had reached a flashpoint, and a section of the CPI, including Jyoti Basu, felt that talks, rather than war, would be the only solution to the crisis. Jyoti Basu’s enemies took no time to label them “anti-national”. He later remembered that someone had even set up a shop at Kalighat in South Calcutta, selling effigies of him and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai for people to burn. Subsequently, Jyoti Basu and other top Communist leaders, including Pramode Dasgupta and Muzaffar Ahmad, were put behind bars. Though the war ended with the Chinese declaring a ceasefire in November 1962, Jyoti Basu and his comrades were not released until December 1963. It was in prison that he got news of his father’s death.
JYOTI BASU SPEAKS at the 7th party congress, in 1964 in Kolkata, which marked a milestone in the history of the CPI(M). The congress adopted a party programme after a protracted ideological struggle within.
The Sino-Indian war brought to the fore certain contradictions simmering within the party, which Jyoti Basu succinctly referred to as the “National Front and the Democratic Front”. Jyoti Basu belonged to the latter. He listed three major areas of disagreement – the character of the Indian state and the ruling Congress party, the approach to the ongoing ideological debate between the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics and China, and, lastly, the stand to be taken on the border dispute which led to the Sino-Indian war (Source: Dr Biplab Dasgupta’s Jyoti Babur Shangey, or With Jyoti Basu).
The inevitable split of the CPI took place in 1964. Jyoti Basu was one of the founder-members of the CPI(M) and a member of the party’s first Polit Bureau of nine members. The other members were E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Sundarayya, Pramode Dasgupta, M. Basavapunnaiah, A.K. Gopalan, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, B.T. Ranadive and P. Ramamurti. At the time of his passing away, he was the sole survivor of the founding fathers of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau. In 1965, People’s Democracy, the organ of the CPI(M), came into being with Jyoti Basu as its first editor.
In 1967, the Congress, which was considered almost invincible in electoral battles, lost at the hustings in several important States in northern and eastern India, including West Bengal, where it lost absolute majority by 14 seats. The two anti-Congress groups – one led by the CPI(M) and the other comprising the Bangla Congress and the CPI – formed the government with Ajoy Mukherjee as Chief Minister and Jyoti Basu as Deputy Chief Minister in charge of Finance.
STALWARTS OF THE CPI(M) central committee, at the plenum held at Burdwan in 1968. Jyoti Basu is in the middle row, fourth from right. It was at this plenum that the ideological document of the party, steering clear of both “right revisionism and left adventurism”, was accepted.
Though the government lasted only around eight months, it took a number of positive steps such as the nationalisation of the tram company, the repeal of the draconian West Bengal Security Act and the decision to direct the police not to take a partisan stand in favour of managements in labour-management disputes.
Dissensions within the coalition and the machinations of the Opposition brought an early end to the government, and President’s Rule was imposed. The next elections, in 1969, were fought by one united coalition, instead of two groups, against the Congress. The result was a spectacular success for the CPI(M), which raised its own tally from 43 to 80, while the Congress figure came down from 123 to 55.
Jyoti Basu became Deputy Chief Minister once again, with the portfolios of General Administration, Home and Police. However, this government lasted only 13 months. But it took a number of important decisions primarily in the field of land reforms and included the redistribution of ceiling-surplus land of big landholders among the landless. It also set up a pay commission for State government employees. As Jyoti Basu explained later, the class interest between the Bangla Congress (which was a breakaway group of the Congress) and the Communists was irreconcilably antithetical, and the resulting frictions sealed the government’s fate. The period thereafter saw the outbreak of the naxalite movement in various parts of the State; and Jyoti Basu had to keep his flock together and their morale intact when the Congress and the naxalites joined hands to liquidate CPI(M) cadre.
The 1971 elections witnessed a unique contest in Baranagar constituency – between the Deputy Chief Minister and the Chief Minister of the previous two governments. While Jyoti Basu beat Ajoy Mukherjee convincingly, the CPI(M) emerged as the single-largest party, winning 111 seats. The Congress won 105 seats. An alliance between the Bangla Congress, the Congress, the Forward Bloc and the CPI prevented the CPI(M)-led alliance from forming the government and once again President’s Rule was imposed in the State. The Assembly elections in 1972 were allegedly rigged and were won by the Congress. This round also saw the first and only electoral defeat of Jyoti Basu, who contested again from Baranagar. The CPI(M) boycotted the proceedings of the Assembly throughout its tenure.
LEFT FRONT VICTORY
UNDER ARREST AFTER the fall of the first United Front government in 1968.
Out of power, Jyoti Basu spent the next five years consolidating and spreading the organisation throughout the State. In the next elections, in 1977 after the Emergency, the CPI(M) returned stronger than ever. On the morning of June 21, 1977, the first Left Front government was sworn in with Jyoti Basu as Chief Minister. His new constituency was Satgachia, which he represented until he retired from electoral politics in 2000 after heading the government for a record 23 years and winning Assembly elections five consecutive times. The CPI(M)-led Left Front government continues in power today after winning its seventh consecutive victory in 2006.
The most significant achievements of the Left Front government were land reforms, which included the distribution of ceiling-surplus land among the poor peasantry, registration of sharecroppers through Operation Barga, guarantee of minimum wage to agricultural labourers, and the establishment of a three-tier panchayati system in which the rural poor found their voice and power.
His government also set up a dole for the unemployed and widows. “Our efforts are not aimed at making the minuscule rich richer. We want to reach the fruits of our successes to the common man,” Jyoti Basu once said. He was also, perhaps, the first Chief Minister who recognised the right of police personnel to form unions. His remarkable foresight also led to the establishment of a separate department for youth services in his Cabinet.
With DR B.C. ROY, the second Chief Minister of West Bengal (1948-62) in the corridors of the Assembly.
One thorn on the side of the State government has been the separatist movement for Gorkhaland in the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling district in North Bengal. The movement, initiated by Subash Ghising, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) supremo, was originally secessionist in nature, but once again a patient and sagacious approach quelled the violence and resulted in a satisfactory accord that led to the formation of an autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988.
However, in subsequent years, Ghising’s failure to meet the popular aspirations in the hills led to a fresh outburst of discontent and a fresh call for a separate State of Gorkhaland. However, during Jyoti Basu’s tenure as Chief Minister, the situation was under control.
Even though Jyoti Basu was a communist to his fingertips, he was no doctrinaire; when the winds of globalisation reached the gates of India after having opened up the economy in Deng Xiaoping’s China, he realised that rapid economic development required heavy investment and modern technology, which necessitated private investment, including foreign capital. Thus, the prestigious Haldia Petrochemicals Complex was set up at Haldia in Medinipur. However, his approach to industrialisation was a pragmatic one – to strike a balance between private management practices while ensuring the welfare of the labour force.
PARTY ABOVE PERSON
In Burdwan district, 1959, listening to the legendary communist leader Muzaffar Ahmed, affectionately known as Kakababu.
Like a true communist, Jyoti Basu placed the decisions of the party above all personal considerations. In 1996, he was the unanimous choice for the post of Prime Minister in the United Front government at the Centre. But he turned down the offer as the majority decision of his party was against it joining the government. Jyoti Basu, of course, later referred to this as a “historic blunder”, but he did not blame anyone else for it. Years later, he wrote in his memoirs: “I am not getting any younger. The burden of being Prime Minister would have proved to be taxing, and it remains a fact that running a coalition with the support of a party like the Congress is not particularly a rosy prospect. I was in a way quite relieved.”
Even after stepping down as Chief Minister on health grounds, Jyoti Basu remained the star attraction at rallies and political campaigns. When he was unable to be present in gatherings, his message was carried to the people through videos. His counsel was considered invaluable by not only the ruling party of West Bengal but also the government at the Centre. Senior leaders from other States and other parties, too, sought his advice on a variety of issues. In life he was one of the few beacon lights History leaves behind on the shores of Time, a light death can never hope to extinguish.