Why Jyoti Basu missed the development bus
- Why Jyoti Basu missed the development bus.
Posted by: "MD Kini" mdkini@...
Fri Mar 5, 2010 10:35 pm (PST)
I wrote the following piece on Jyoti Basu after reading all the
tributes to him in the media and some critical comments made by some
observers. It has been published by a magazine, and would like to
share with Karmayogis.
With good wishes,
M.D.Kini ( kinis68@gmail. com
Why Jyoti Basu missed the development bus.
When Jyoti Basu passed away on January 17 many hailed it as an end of
an era not only in West Bengal, but in India itself. Some bemoaned the
fact that he missed an opportunity to be the first prime minister from
the Communist Party of India. He was acclaimed as the longest ruling
Chief Minister in India. He distributed land to the tillers. His
advice was sought to form government of India and was looked upon as
an Elder Statesman. These compliments came from newspapers, TV
reporters and some politicians from the Congress and members of the
erstwhile Third Front.
After the fulsome praise from the politicians and the media, some
critics have given their assessment. The commentators and columnists
were more circumspect and more truthful. " Jyoti Basu's life was a
tragedy" observes Ashis Nandy, eminent sociologist and author, and
that is the headline of Sheela Bhatt's piece in India Abroad ( New
York, Jan.29), while Kanchan Gupta, another journalist, called him "
Destroyer of West Bengal" in Daily Pioneer (January 10). Swapan
Dasgupta ,well-known commentator, says that Basu `s rule took West
Bengal out of the mainstream of development in India, and " Basu's
legacy is negative". When zamindari was abolished in 1952, it started
the end of feudalism, says Dasgupta, and land reforms were its
consequences. Basu cannot claim any special credit for it.
Basu was the Chief Minister for 23 long years (!977- 2000) and if we
include the United Front government dominated by CPM, it would be 33
years (1967-77). In this long tenure in office, what did he achieve in
West Bengal apart from land distribution ?
Ashis Nandy made a very keen observation when said that the Indian
communists have a colonial mind-set and not a creative mind-set like
the Chinese or even the Russian communists. " Basu", he says, " had a
colonial education. Indian Marxists took Marx literally; they took it
as gospel European truth. Indian Marxists could not take risks as the
Chinese or even the Russians did. China and Russia were not directly
colonized. They could play a bigger game by modifying the Marxist
text. They used Marx creatively I would say Basu's life was a tragedy.
He could not take land reforms further to play the bigger game "
After land reforms, Basu and CPM were keen to consolidate their power
through various trade unions of government servants, the police,
private and public sectors. The party and the state became almost one.
This explains their long reign in West Bengal. Their imagination and
vision could not go any further.
A New Class.
Saugata Roy, writing in Times of India, Mumbai ( Nov.4,2009), under
the headline, Waste Bengal, has pointed out : " A section of the
ruling CPM, which had won the hearts through land reforms in the late
seventies tuned into tormentors as in Geroge Orwell's Animal Farm.
Slowly, sons of the soil Mandis, Murmus, Sorens, and Tudus lost
out to dikkus ( foreigners) like Sarkars and Pandeys in the party
hierarchy. Many in the new breed turned into 'party managers',
traveling in air-conditioned cars and running the party from the
It is indeed a new class highlighted by Milovan Djilas in his famous
book of the same name years ago. The people's anger erupted when the
government and the party tried to take over their land in Nandigram
which was distributed to them earlier by the party government.
The Party is to go on strike and bandh (close ) at the drop of a hat
in the `fifties and `sixties increase in bus fare, tram fare, wages,
trade union rivalry. Calcutta ( now called Kolkata ), which boasted of
many engineering industries was the industrial capital of India with
proximity to areas with iron, steel and coal when India became free
and the communist trade unions made it the strike capital of India. A
new form of strike called `gherao' ( surround) till the management
agrees to the demand of the workers became the favorite weapon. This
made the industry to migrate to Western India Maharashtra and
Gujarat. The flight of industry was also facilitated by the `freight
equalization' policy of the government of India with regard to steel
The Industrial Decline.
The industrial decline in West Bengal has been summarized by some
economists of leftist persuasion led by Abhijit Banerjee, Pranab
Bardan, Kaushik Basu and seven others in their article, Strategy for
Economic Reform in West Bengal, (EPW Special Article, October
12,2002). The following paragraphs summarize the industrial situation
at the end of Jyoti Basu's regime :
" The crude facts of the last 20 years about the relative position of
West Bengal industry are nothing short of stunning. In 1980-81 West
Bengal produced 9.8 per cent of the industrial output produced in
India. In 1997-98, which is the latest year for which we have the
numbers the share was 5.1 per cent, up from a nadir of 4.7 per cent in
1995-96. Organized sector employment actually declined in West Bengal
over the period 1980-9; in particular employment in the organized
private sector went down from 10.84 lakhs all the way to 7.99 lakhs."
The authors found a similar pattern in foreign trade. The Kolkata
airport and port handled about 10 per cent of the imports and exports
from the country in 1985-86 which came down to around 4 per cent in
1998-99. West Bengal was the second most industrialized states even in
the mid-1960s and it came down behind Karnataka and just ahead of UP
in terms of the share of output from industry by 1995-96. And they
add, "What makes these numbers even more striking is the fact that
this happened in a period of relative peace and political stability in
the state after the turbulent 1960s and the repressive 1970s ."
The authors further write :"Most remarkably, all this happened in a
period when the industrial growth rate in the country as a whole
accelerated: the rate of growth of industry value added was 7 per cent
in the 1980s and 6.7 per cent in 1990s compared to 5.5 per cent in the
1960s and 1970s. This was after all the period of the software boom
and liberalization, the period that put Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and
Delhi in the industrial map of India. It would almost seem that West
Bengal opted to step off the bus just as everyone else was getting
The article mentions `rampant and institutionalized corruption in the
middle and lower rungs of the government' and particularly PWD,
police, excise, irrigation and public procurement agencies. It cites
CAG report which finds 11 statutory corporations and 69 public sector
companies - `not a single one has paid a dividend to the state
government for 1999-2000, as in most years in recent history'. It
is a severe condemnation of the Communist rule and offers many
suggestions to recover the lost glory of West Bengal in all spheres
hi-tech industry, higher education, power supply, credit,
de-reservation of agro-industries from small-scale sector, contract
farming, role of multi-national companies, Chinese strategy of
labour-intensive small-scale industry which is ironically called as
The Middle Class driven out.
Kanchan Gupta describes Basu's rule as " a terrible tale of calculated
destruction of West Bengal in the name of ideology," and adds," Entire
generations of educated middle class Bengalis were forced to seek
refuge in other states or migrate to America as Jyoti Basu worked over
time first to destroy West Bengal's economy, chase out Bengali talent
and the hand over a disinherited state to Burrabazar traders and
wholesale merchants who overnight became `industrialists' with a
passion for asset-stripping and investing their `profits' elsewhere".
The `Sheffield of the East' became a vast strech of wasteland, he
Marx had predicted communism after the demise of capitalism. Indian
communists never allowed capitalism to produce goods at least in their
pocket boroughs Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. They killed
industries in the private sector with increasing demands by the
workers and made public sector enterprises inefficient. . The communist
dilemma was real. If capitalism succeeds in producing goods for the
masses, workers may not heed to their call for strike, bandh and
gherao. An American labor leader had remarked in Mumbai in the late
`fifties that the Russian workers may own the car factory, but the
American workers own cars. Does it matter to the worker who owns
factory if he is given a fair deal ? Mass production and mass
consumption go together.
A Closed Mind.
The tragedy of Indian communists was its colonial mindset as Ashis
Nandy has explained in his comments. They were text book communists
unlike the Chinese, who are pragmatists, especially Deng Xiaoping who
had famously declared that it did not matter whether the color of the
cat was white or black as long as it could catch the mice and went on
with his industrialization promoting capitalism both native and
foreign. Of course, it is easy to change policies in a totalitarian
polity. Indian communists had no clue as to how to go about it in a
democratic polity. Democracy believes in debate, discussion, and
consensus. Indian communists' allergy for private enterprise and
private initiative made West Bengal an industrial desert. They
literally made West Bengal into a Waste Bengal ! Since India had a
mixed economy, the Communists could have encouraged private enterprise
to bloom in West Bengal bringing in more employment and prosperity,
they could have been the pioneers the economic developments, not the
The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx was published in 1848 and it was
inspired by the deplorable state of the workers in the capitalist
society. Communists took power in Russia and China during the chaos at
end of the first and second world wars in the pre-capitalist
societies. Both these countries failed to build a society of the free
and the equal. While Soviet Russia collapsed by its inner
contradictions (Soviet Union rivaled USA in military hardware but not
in consumer goods), China is struggling to combine free market and
one-party rule, and it is not likely to succeed. Man cannot live by
bread alone. He requires freedom of thought and expression as well to
expand his imagination and to realize his vision. Man has to challenge
himself to reach greater heights of achievements in all human
endeavours. Man's vision and destiny cannot be bound by a book.
Marx did not live to see what difference democracy can make to the
lives of the people. Power to change societies comes from the
ballot-box, not from the barrel of the gun. Basu and his friends saw
the change but did not take notice of it. They had a closed mind. The
adult franchise was ushered in Europe and America in the 20th century.
After the second world war in which million sacrificed their lives,
welfare state was ushered in Western Europe and USA. The free
enterprise abolished poverty in these countries. Freedom of thought
and expression have enriched lives of the people of these countries.
Even the recent collapse of financial capitalism is being set right by
the democratic state.
- Dear Kini,
I can hardly disagree with what's being said here. The communist zeal to reverse everything that exists (or subversion, as academics would put it) is one of the main nuisances of that ideology.
But I think your antagonism for communism is making you bend too much on the side of democratic capitalism. The last few lines are an indication...
The free enterprise abolished poverty in these countries. Freedom of thought and expression have enriched lives of the people of these countries. Even the recent collapse of financial capitalism is being set right by the democratic state.
Last September, poverty rate in US hit a 11-year high. Moreover, financial crisis may have made many hark back on regulation as the principal weapon to prevent another crisis; but the problem lies elsewhere. As one seasoned commentator put it:
...the crisis was caused by greedy and inept bank executives who failed to control activities they did not understand. While regulators may be at fault in not having acted sufficiently vigorously, the claim that they caused the crisis is as ludicrous as the claim that crime is caused by the indolence of the police.