An Interview with JYOTI BASU
Jyoti Basu took the oath on 21st June 1977 as the first Chief Minister of Left Front government, which received the mandate of the people in every subsequent assembly elections till today.Comrade Jyoti Basu took the oath on 21st June 1977 as the first Chief Minister of Left Front government, which received the mandate of the people in every subsequent assembly elections till today. Comrade Jyoti Basu will turn 94 on 8th July. A veteran Communist leader, member of the first Polit Bureau of the CPI (M), a freedom fighter and the longest serving Chief Minister in post-independence India, Comrade Jyoti Basu is truly a living legend. In this interview he shares his thoughts on the 30 years of the Left front government.
Q. The Left Front government in West Bengal is completing 30 years in office, which is unprecedented in the democratic history of our country. How has this been possible?
JB: There was a time when we thought that no Left Front government would ever be allowed to even take oath, let alone continue to exist for 30 consecutive years. The real power in a parliamentary democracy like India rests with the Centre, which so far has been ruled by the bourgeois-landlord parties. In 1957, the first Communist led Government was formed in Kerala and Comrade E M S Namboodiripad became Chief Minister. The government was dismissed within a year invoking Article 356 for the first time in India. We highlighted this experience in our State.
In the sixties and seventies, a series of struggles were launched in the State under the leadership of the CPI (M). Movement for food, students’ movement, refugees’ movement, workers’ movement and teachers’ movement — such an upsurge in popular struggles created a new situation in West Bengal. Later the first United Front Government was elected in the year 1967; although it remained in the office only for nine months. The second UF Government came to power in 1969 and lasted for 13 months. However, during that short duration of UF government the people observed our party and its role. We were largest party within the alliance, but we left the Chief Ministership for the Bangla Congress. In the subsequent election in 1971, a complete mockery was staged in the name of election. It was a dark chapter for parliamentary democracy in India. Congress won by rigging the elections. We decided to boycott the assembly election as mark of our protest. After that our struggle for democratic rights and freedom of civilians reached a new height. All basic rights of common citizens were snatched after the imposition of emergency on 26th June 1975. Actually such a situation was created in West Bengal right after the fall of second United Front government.
The older generation has seen us in the opposition. They have also seen the amount of repression that we had to suffer. Our party was declared illegal after independence in 1948. Most of our leaders were jailed after the Court gave us legal status. But even under such tremendous repression the people of West Bengal saw that we never surrendered before our class enemy. We were tortured both inside the jail as well as outside. But we never compromised with the ruling class. This is our legacy. That’s why people respect us, repose their faith on us.
That’s why even after 30 years and despite all kinds of rumours, slanderous allegations and machinations of the Election Commission we got re-elected by three-fourth majority in last election. Such allegations insulted not only us but also the people of West Bengal. People gave them a fitting rebuff.
Q. What were the main priorities and major achievements of the Left Front government during this period?
JB: When we first came to office we made serious efforts to implement our commitments mentioned in the 36-point charter of programmes. When we won the election in 1977, a huge crowd had gathered outside the Writers Building to greet us. I told them that we would not rule from the Writers Building alone but also by making common cause with workers, employees and all sections of the people. We gave emphasis on the land reform programmes. As far as I know, more than 13 lakh acres of land has been redistributed distributed among poor and landless people. In our state about 84 percent of the agricultural land is in the possession of the poor and marginal kisans. This programme continues even today. The seventh Left Front government has also started distributing land to poor people although litigations continue to create problems in this regard.
We have also given emphasis to agricultural development, decentralization of power through the three-tier panchayati system, municipalities, ensuring women’s reservation in panchayats, voting rights to those above 18 years in municipality and panchayati elections etc. Agricultural production has increased. We have also given priority to micro and small-scale industries. Interests of poor people, agricultural labourers and sharecroppers have been very much protected.
The Left Front came to office through a series of mass movements and struggles. We must remember that Left Front is not merely an electoral front. People have seen our role. In parliamentary democracy we have created history. I sincerely believe that we have fulfilled 90 percent of our commitments made at the time of installation of first LF government. I don’t deny that some drawbacks still remain. We made a commitment for electrification of every village but it was not completed; although I am informed that within 2012 it will be done. The seventh Left Front government has taken a decision to that effect.
Actually we never hide anything from the people, not even our shortcomings. We ask our party comrades to listen to the criticisms against us. If there is anything positive that can be done, then it has to be done; if not then the people should be told so directly. This is our task. Though in many cases it is the Central government, which is responsible to create barriers over our development programmes in order to sully our image.
Q. Can you please elaborate upon the discrimination faced by West Bengal?
JB: We have faced discrimination right from the beginning. There are many examples but I remember two such incidents. There was an electronics project proposed in the Salt Lake area that Indira Gandhi had promised to help us with. After keeping me waiting for one year she said that her officers who had set up a committee to look into this matter have suggested her not to go ahead with this project, as investments in West Bengal are unsafe because it is a border state! It was a completely ridiculous argument since it was the North-East which was considered to be sensitive from the security point of view, not West Bengal. I asked her what the real problem was. But she pleaded helplessness. Later, without any help from the Central government we built the electronic complex on 300 acres of land and now about 25-30 thousand youth are working there. In case of the Haldia petrochemicals complex, a project worth over Rs. 5,000 crores, we had to wait for 11 years to get permission from the Central government. Now more than 70,000 people are employed in the downstream industries there.
Q. How do you see the Opposition’s role, as far as development of West Bengal is concerned?
JB: Several times I have reiterated that the role of the Opposition in parliamentary democracy is very important, whether they are big or small. But it should be a responsible Opposition. Opposition parties have a right to oppose the government’s programmes, but in a responsible manner. When we are taking pro-people programmes, why can’t they extend cooperation?
West Bengal is now the largest producer of rice and second largest producer of potatoes in the country. Through the land reform programme, we have succeeded in distributing land to poor people. This program is still continuing. Now it is in the interest of the unemployed youth that the government is emphasizing industrialisation. It is the need of our State. There was a time when West Bengal held a prestigious position among other States in the country in this regard. But due to the politically motivated licensing system and the policy of freight equalization pursued by the successive Congress governments, the State had to suffer a lot leading to acute industrial stagnation.
But after removal of these discriminatory regulations, I delivered a speech on our industrial policy in the Assembly. The Congress legislators had expressed their opposition to that policy. Some confusion was created after placing that report. Actually I had mentioned in my report that for the industrial growth we also need foreign investment. But it should be based on mutual interest protecting the legitimate interests of our workers.
Now the Opposition is trying to create chaos over every development programme of the Left Front government. When I was the Chief Minister, we appealed to the opposition to join us in an all-Party delegation to meet the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on the development projects of the State. Mamata Banerjee and Ajit Panja refused to be a part of the delegation. Now when our government is trying to undertake development programmes for the State, the Opposition is once again trying to foment trouble. Few months ago, the Trinamul Congress legislators ransacked the State Assembly and destroyed the furniture and other government property. Does this reflect a responsible attitude? I am told that Speaker of the Assembly has decided to deduct an amount for the damages from their salaries.
What I am trying to say is that even earlier, Opposition parties have played a responsible and constructive role. People of West Bengal saw us as a responsible opposition — we never created such problems on such development programmes which were in the interest of our State and our people. When the Congress Chief Minister Bidhan Roy had taken initiatives for setting up the Durgapur Steel Plant and Kalyani Township, we had supported those initiatives.
Q. What are your feelings on the completion of 30 years of the Left Front government?
JB: I am extremely happy. Our government will soon enter into its 31st year. This is a historic example in parliamentary democracy. Actually we need to campaign across the country about the positive achievements of our governments in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. People across the country need to know the type of alternative programmes we have implemented in these States. We have to raise the question why the other States couldn’t achieve what the Left ruled States could, even within the limitations of the present Constitutional set-up and social structure.
Though we are very strong in these three States, and fairly strong in a few more, we do not have the required strength in most parts of the country. That is why, not only do we have to strengthen our party organisation, but also our mass organizations. Without strengthening the mass organizations, we cannot build a strong party all over the country. I believe that within the bourgeois structure, we should try to take whatever little advantage that the system offers, in order to make advance. Our ultimate aim is to build a classless non-exploitative society. We have to continue our fight to achieve this goal. Though I don’t know how long it is going to take.