Jyoti Basu was born on 8th July, 1914 at Kolkata. His father Nishikanta Basu and mother Hemlata Devi lived in Kolkata though their ancestral home was in village Bardi in Dhaka. Nishikanta Basu was an eminent homeopath doctor. Jyoti Basu spent his childhood in Kolkata, mostly in their house in Hindusthan Park in South Kolkata, where he lived the most part of his life too.
Jyoti Basu passed his Senior Cambridge and Intermediate from St Xaviers’ school and later was admitted in Presidency College with Honours in English. Though not an active political family, Basu’s father was supportive of the national struggle. While in school, Basu was inspired by the Chittagong armed rebellion led by Surya Sen in 1930.
In 1935, Basu went to England to study law. In a volatile international situation, during his university days, his political thoughts were shaped in ideological debates against fascism. Basu became an active member of the India League, a body of Indian students, led by V.K Krishna Menon. Among others, Bhupesh Gupta and Snehangshukanta Acharya were his friends in student days. Jyoti Basu gradually came into contact with leaders of the Communist Party of Great Britain . He began to participate in Marxist Study Circles and joined in the activities of the Communist Groups in London, Oxford, and Cambridge. He came in close contact with Harry Pollit, Rajni Palme Dutt, Ben Bradley and other leaders of CPGB. They had a great influencing role in shaping the ideas and life of young Basu. Jyoti Basu became the first secretary of London Majlis, an association of Indians. They felicitated Jawharlal Nehru in London. Basu decided that he would join the Communist Party after returning to India.
Basu returned to India in 1940 and immediately contacted the Party leaders. Though he enrolled himself as a barrister in Calcutta High Court, he never practiced simply because he was determined to become a wholetimer of the Party.
Basu became the secretary of Friends of Soviet Union and Anti-Fascist Writers’ Association in Kolkata. As member of the Party, the initial task of Basu was to maintain liaison with underground Party leaders. He was entrusted responsibilities in the trade union front from 1944. In that year, Bengal Assam Railroad Workers’ Union was formed and Basu became its first secretary. Basu was elected to Bengal Provincial Assembly in 1946 from the Railway Workers constituency. Ratanlal Bramhan and Rupnarayan Roy were the other two Communists who were elected. From that day on, Basu became one of the most popular and influential legislators for decades to come. He showed how the Communists can use the legislative forums for strengthening struggles.
Basu played a very active role in stormy days of 1946-47 when Bengal witnessed the Tebhaga movement, workers strikes and even communal riots. Everywhere the struggling people got Basu by their side.
Jyoti Basu was the secretary of the West Bengal Provincial Committee of the Party from 1953 to January 1961. He was elected to Central Committee of the Party in 1951. He was a member of the Polit Bureau from 1964 onwards. He was elected as a special invitee to PB in 19th Congress of the Party in 2008.
After the country gained independence, he was elected to the assembly from Baranagar in 1952. He was elected to the West Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1952, 1957, 1962, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1991 and 1996. Though an elected member, Basu was arrested several times during the 1950s and 60s and for certain periods he went underground to evade arrest by the police.
In 1962, Jyoti Basu was one amongst the 32 members of the National Council who walked out of the meeting. When the CPI(M) was formed in 1964 as a result of the ideological struggle within the Communist movement, Basu became a member of the Polit Bureau. He was, in fact, the last surviving member of the “Navaratnas”, the nine members of the first Polit Bureau.
During the days of India-China border conflict, Basu, alongwith other leaders of the Party, were accused of being “agents of China” and faced attacks from the ruling class parties and the anti-Communist media.
1n 1967, Basu became the deputy Chief Minister in the first United Front Ministry and again in 1969. These two governments provided a great stimulus in unleashing mass and class struggle in West Bengal. Jyoti Basu played an important role in intertwining the struggle and running the government. In 1970, he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt at the Patna Railway Station by the Anandmargis. In 1971, Basu’s car and public meeting were attacked by Congress miscreants at least twice. Though CPI(M) became the single largest party in the assembly elections in 1971, the Party was refused the chance to form a ministry and Presidents’ Rule was imposed in West Bengal. The 1972 elections were rigged and Jyoti Basu was forced to boycott the elections. Basu famously declared the new assembly as “assembly of the frauds” and CPI(M) boycotted the assembly for the next five years. West Bengal faced severe repression and terror during the semi-fascist Congress regime in this period. The CPI(M) and the Left forces courageously fought the onslaught and Basu was one of the leading figures of that heroic resistance by the people.
In 1977, the Left Front Government was formed as a product of the democratic and mass struggles and Basu became the Chief Minister. He was 63 then. A new, vigorous era in his life began. The very first announcement by Basu after he was sworn in was that the government would not be run from Writers’ Building alone. The people would be very much part of it. Under Basu’s leadership, the LF government initiated far reaching measures in the interests of toiling people. The land reforms, decentralization through panchayats, guaranteeing trade union rights of the workers, giving widespread relief to different sections of the society, spread of education marked a radical departure in governance in our country. Under LF government, West Bengal witnessed excellent advancement in agriculture and later it was under his leadership that the state government took serious initiative in industrialization of the state. In office continuously for 24 years, Basu was the longest serving chief minister in the country.
One of the major contributions of Basu as Chief Minister was to raise the issue of Centre-State relations at the all India level. On the one hand, Basu led the struggle against discrimination against West Bengal and successfully built the Haldia Petro Chemicals, Bakreswar Thermal Power Station etc. On the other hand, he could mobilize other state governments and various political parties on the issue.
Jyoti Basu played a significant role in national politics and his intervention in important junctures proved to be crucial. Basu played a prominent role in mobilizing anti-Congress secular opposition forces during the regimes of Indira Gandhi ,Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao. He also played an important role in mobilizing secular forces against the communal BJP. In 1996, his name was proposed by the secular allies for Prime Ministership. But the CPI(M) Central Committee decided to support the government from outside.
Jyoti Basu was one of the main campaigners for the Party at the national level. He visited all the states and areas a number of times to address public meetings and rallies. He was particular about attending the open sessions of the CITU all India conferences.
Basu was all along associated with the trade union movement and was a champion of the cause of working class. He was a Vice President of CITU since its inception in 1970.
In November 2000, Basu voluntarily retired from Chief Ministership but he continued to lead the Party in West Bengal. Despite his ill health, Basu participated in Party meetings and in election campaign in 2006 also.
Basu’s wife Kamal Basu died some years ago. He is survived by his only son Chandan and three grandchildren.