Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jyoti Basu’s legacy - decades of appeasing and populist political posturing in Bengal

Jyoti Basu often mentioned in private, to reporters, that a lot of things needed to be said, whether they were based on sound logic and practicable or not, due to compelling political reasons. How true he was! Decades after decades, elections after elections, governments after governments, the left brigade have thrived on populist socio-religious political posturing, resulting in retarded growth of Bengal and a growing divide and discontentment amongst various religious sections within the State, minority or otherwise. Successive Left Front governments have taken pseudo-secular stance, brainlessly appeasing sections, without giving a damn for the real problems plaguing and hurting the minorities, since independence.

In keeping with the trend, the Buddhadeb government has declared the latest ‘bonanza’ for the minorities. Electoral statistics have been showing consistent erosion in the minority vote bank for the Left Front, especially for the CPM. Two main pillars of the Left Front’s electoral success – its rural and minority support base has been showing clear signs of displaced loyalty. Desperate to woo and win back the minority vote, Buddhadeb declared a 10% reservation for backward Muslims earlier this week, following observations made in the Sachar Committee Report. With the Assembly polls just around the corner, the Left Front government can ill-afford to back-track on its years of the strategic appeasement policy of the minorities, with the current Muslim population amounting to 26% of the State’s electorate. Buddhadeb’s declaration came on the same day on which the Andhra High court gave the verdict that reservation for the minorities is an unsustainable process and hence should be abandoned by the State government. Andhra currently has a stipulated 4% reservation for the minorities. Quite ironical, isn’t it?

Public posturing for the sake of advancement of personal political ambitions has been one of the primary cornerstones of Jyoti Basu’s success. During his many political campaigns, prior to 1977, when Jyoti Basu was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Bengal, the CPI(M) launched a relentless and ruthless tirade against the Congress government in power. The CPI(M) leaders promised in various public forums and election meetings that if they came to power, amongst many other luxuries enjoyed by the ‘bourgeois’ Siddhartha Shankar Ray Government, they would destroy the lavish washroom attached to the Chief Ministerial chamber and the helicopter utilized by the ministers and administrators in the government. These according to the CPI(M) and Mr. Basu were symbols of imperialism and capitalism and were against the ideals of revolutionary socialism that the leftists intended to introduce in Bengal.

Reporters reminded Mr. Basu of the promises once he was sworn in and also brought to his notice that the Left Front’s transport minister Amin Saheb has suggested that the government is considering selling off the copter. In his very inimitable style Jyoti Babu stated that he wasn’t aware of any such suggestion from the transport ministry. Amin Saheb was soon to be replaced by Shyamal Chakraborty and the copter continued to grace the left front’s transport ministry, till it got replaced with a more modern version (a French chopper – Dauphin 2, costing about 5 crore), as per suggestion of the transport ministry under Shyamal babu. There are instances of numerous such double standards. It’s a shame that the Chief Minister of an impoverished, economically wanting state, used the helicopter to visit a Student Federation of India meeting at Midnapore, burning gallons of taxpayers’ money. Not to be left behind Shyamal babu had no qualms to make a trip to Malda using the government chopper. It is a pretty known fact that Subhash Chakraborty, who succeeded his brother as the transport minister, virtually converted the government helicopter into a private taxi!

An internal audit report published in the year 1988 revealed that the State copter was used by Mr. Basu for over 5 months that year, purely for CPI(M) party’s need and activities, causing a dent worth 60 Lacs to the State Exchequer!

Ah, I forgot to mention the fate of the washroom, during Mr. Basu’s Chief Ministership. Erstwhile Chief Minister Mr. Ray had spent 80,000 rupees to renovate the washroom, which Jyoti babu found, on his first visit, unusable in its current state. He got it upgraded, fitted with various communication gadgets and other luxurious modifications at a cost of one lac seventy-two thousand rupees!

Jyoti Babu’s tryst with comfort continued well beyond his days in Europe, starting from days of his initiation into Indian leftist politics with his political christening with railway labour and trade unionism in 1944, till the very last moments of his Chief Ministership and beyond.

Whether he managing to bag a first class railway pass during his initial years as a Trade Union leader, to the brand new Audi car he flaunted during those times, that he mentioned he received as a gift from a renowned industrialist, to the Government property (Indira Bhawan) that he occupied for decades at the cost of public money and convenience, to his extensive use of state logistics and machinery to further his party’s interest, provides ample evidence of his liking for the good life and political aspirations.

Jyoti Basu’s greatest quality lay in managing to keep his image almost unscathed during his entire political career, or in managing to keep all potential corners of trouble tight and happy over the decades, inspite of delicately managing one of the largest ever coalition government at the State level, and various political opponents he had to content with in the Central Legislature.

Wonder how he would have fared during current times with this dubious identity of a conspicuously flambuoyant lifestyle on one hand and a communist, socialist, anti-establishment, pro-people political posture on the other, with the press far more free than say three or four decades back and the media a few hundred times more fearless, intrusive and powerful than during his times. Would he have still come out of his 60 years of political career with a kurta and dhoti as clean and spotless as they appeared till his last days?

Pics courtesy: The Telegraph, Kolkata