Jyoti Basu died on Saturday. West Bengal died several years ago. I know that picking on a dead man is "unethical" and is in extremely poor taste. But, this is a slightly personal post. I was born in 1978 in Calcutta, a year after the Communists came to power. Several years after the exodus of Bengal's best and brightest began. And while I was born in Calcutta (but I will always, always treat New Delhi as my home, I've studied here, I've grown up here), my parents had already moved out of the city, my father ran away the first chance he got - it was the era when if you were in La Martinere, you went to St.Stephen's if you could not Presidency. Let me qualify this post, I am no student of contemporary Indian history (I'm a student of Literature - one who fails to see the point of a lot of poetry, fiction any day) but the Naxalbari movement was not much different from that of Pol Pot a couple of thousand miles to the south-east.
The country will celebrate Jyotibabu as a great leader. He ruled West Bengal with an iron grip - the ruse being that the Commies were 'democratically' elected. What people forget is how the CPI(M) cadre were, at least in large swathes of rural Bengal little different than the Stasi. Yes, the Communists liberated Bengal from the feudalism that still plagues parts of Northern India. You can argue about the rights and wrongs of land distribution (I reckon hundreds of acres of arable farmland have been lost to the furrows between fields) but in a country where 'Do Bigha Zamin' makes a difference, it was a big deal. The issues were never on the fields but in industry. As their brethren in China embarked on a 30 year journey towards the Olympic Games, Bengal's communists were retrograde. Industries in the state were not allowed to grow - and taking the Rajdhani to Howrah as a child you could see the vast industrial wastelands of central Bengal.
People (keep in mind these 'people' are almost always Bengali parochialists - and that is not a breed that is in any danger of going extinct, especially in the media) and say that it is a tragedy that JB never became PM. We got a sleepy and foul-mouthed HD Deve Gowda instead. But the Deve Gowda - IK Gujral interregnum in Indian modern is better best forgotten (and not as the Congress would like - Narashima Rao's - but history is the best judge not 10, Janpath). I'm not arguing that JB would have been worse, but if we are the growing economic powerhouse that we are today, it isn't thanks to the Communists. We can debate a lot of 'What If's?' in history - I mean what if the Indian Army hadn't won the decisive battle in Imphal against the Japanese? Would we be ruled by the Forward Bloc (scary bunch of people). But you know what? I thank my lucky stars that Jyoti Basu did not become Prime Minister of India.
Not that Mamta will be much better for that state, little wonder my cousin sister wants to run away after graduating from school this year. Shed a tear for the state, not the man.