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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 12 New Delhi March 10, 2018

Jyoti Basu’s Bombshell

Monday 12 March 2018, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

We are reproducing the following piece by N.C. that appeared in this weekly in January 1997 on an interview to a national daily given by Jyoti Basu, the CPM patriuarch and former West Bengal CM, regarding the party Central Committee’s decision in May 1996 debarring him from becoming the Prime Minister of India heading the United Front Government at the Centre, as desired by the country’s entire political spectrum. The interview was published in the daily on January 1, 1997. This piece is being reproduced against the backdrop of the CPM and Left’s latest massive electoral defeat—a veritable rout—at the hands of the BJP in the just-concluded Tripura Assembly elections. There is no gainsaying that the party leadership, specifically the former CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat (who was instrumental in preventing Basu from becoming the PM 22 years ago), was inter alia responsible for this rout.

Jyoti Basu’s interview to a national daily, which appeared on the New Year’s Day, has by itself become a historic landmark. The veteran CPI-M leader has, on his own, criticised the decision of his party’s Central Committee, taken in May last, which rejected the idea of his becoming the Prime Minister, leading the United Front Ministry.

This is unprecedented in the communist liturgy that a decision taken at a party conclave is disclosed by any of those present, the least of all by a top leader. The only exception to this rule was provided by Khrushchev, who as the First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, disclosed to a meeting of party workers in 1956 what he thought were the mistakes and misdeeds of Stalin as he felt them.

Forty years later has come this open attack on a party decision by the leading figure of the Communist Party of India-Marxist. The irony of it all is that this very party claims to uphold the purity of the Marxist doctrine and practice in the midst of its repudiation by a very large number of Communists all over the world.

Jyoti Basu’s press interview has thus become an issue of major interest and concern for the members and supporters of his own party, as also for the wider public that closely scrutinises the views and functioning of the communist movement. The question naturally to be raised in such circles would be whether Basu’s interview should be taken as breaking new ground on the rocky soil of communist discipline and what would be the impact of this precedent created by one of the foremost figures in the communist movement today.

Not to speak of its content, the fact of such an open interview on a subject of immediate import to his party marks a new stage in the evolution of inner-party discipline for a Communist Party. The interview itself has not only been elaborate but places a cogently argued point of view and not some snippets of passing comments sometimes indulged in by political leaders in public encounters.

Leaving aside the quantum of sensation unleashed by the interview, its content itself is a veritable political landmark. There have been instances in the communist movement when a decision once reached was taken up for review and reconsideration by the party itself, but in such cases whoever called for a reconsideration did so within the precincts of the party in the appropriate forums. In other words, this is done as a collective business, as the Communists would put it.

On this score also, the orthodox communist discipline may find fault with Basu because he had come out in the interview with his personal views on a major political decision, bypassing the normal communist practice of raising the issue in the accredited party forum. It is, therefore, obvious that this interview by one of the top Communist leaders in the country has come as a bombshell to the party ranks, apart from its very important effect on the wider public.

The question naturally arises if the interview would mark a new stage in the changing face of communist practice in the new world situation, or at least in the conditions prevailing in India. While the rigid old style political functioning might disapprove of this unique development as something undercutting discipline within a party fold, Basu’s press interview has to be understood as marking a rightful response to a major political issue confronting not only his party but the country as a whole. In other words, this extraordinary step on the part of Basu is a measure of his sense of urgency in dealing with an unprecedented situation in the country. In fact, the essence of the happenings in May was the offer by a United Front of diverse parties to a Communist leader to take up the reins of power of this great country.

Basu’s reopening of the question through a major press interview once again underlines the importance that he attaches to the issue. He did not hesitate to disclose that while the minority within the CPI-M Central Committee could mobilise 20 supporters in favour of his taking up the United Front offer to him to become the next Prime Minister, the opposition to the idea came from as many as 35 who ignored the significance of this unique political development. Borrowing a metaphor from the ancient history of the Indian National Congress, it may be said that there were 20 pro-changers and 35 no-changers within the Central Committee of the CPI-M on the issue of a Communist leading the government at the Centre.

It would be important to note the fact that a leading figure in the communist movement should disclose all these after seven long months. Obviously, a responsible leader of an important party does not comment sharply on a decision of the party after such a long gap without having good political reasons to bring it back to limelight. Although he has not spelt it out in so many words, Basu has made it obvious in the interview that the situation today has brought out the unwisdom of declining the United Front offer to him to lead the government.

The intertia of the Deve Gowda Government, the inability of the present Prime Minister to adequately handle the responsibilities foisted on him, the complexities of the present political situation with pulls and pressures from different directions—all these and many other reasons make it obvious to any responsible observer that the time has come for an urgent reconsi-deration of the old arrangement. It is clear that the United Front Government with Deve Gowda in the lead is proving it almost impossible to carry on as it has done so long. And the future ahead is beset with many more intractable difficulties which Deve Gowda will find it difficult to overcome.

Add to all these the developments inside the Congress-I, which—with all the problems and discredit it had had to face in the last seven months—is now trying to regroup itself and its leaders are trying to breathe down the neck of the present government with Deve Gowda running helter-skelter to ensure Congress support. The present indications are that the Congress leadership is keen on joining the government in a manner that may split or divide the United Front, but without having to face the ordeal of a general election.

All this requires a very careful handling of the situation and this can be possible only if the government team is led by leaders of wisdom and experience. As things stand today, it is only the Left that can provide it, and within the Left, it is Jyoti Basu who is the obvious choice for leadership.

Jyoti Basu’s interview thus underlines “the historic blunder” not only of the CPI-M decision to stay away from the government as he himself has put it but also an urgent call to review the critical political situation. In fact, a timely warning to the entire United Front to pay heed to the enveloping crisis that faces its government is that timely corrections could be made to save the situation. Obviously, such a review has to reopen the question of the leadership of the government since the present government has denied to itself the accretion of strength that can come to it from the CPI-M joining it and providing it with the much-needed leadership.

In short, what Jyoti Basu has tried to convey is not just the disclosure of the details of an unfortunate decision by the leadership of his own party seven months ago, but the way to rectify the mistake for its future course.

(Mainstream, January 18, 1997)

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