With the passing away of Jyoti Basu, the curtain comes down on an entire chapter of communist history in this country. Basu may have been the last of a generation that learnt its politics in the stormy days of the anticolonial struggle and who lived through the ups and downs of politics – from the underground days of the 1930s and 1940s to the initiation into the ways of parliamentary democracy. The long engagement with parliamentary democracy was to lead to Basu’s – and the communists’ – long stint in power. And Basu was one of those rare communists for whom democracy was not a mere strategic imperative but a value to be internalized.
Basu belonged to a generation of communists who worked their way from the bottom up. Trained in Law in England, Basu returned to India, determined to work in the communist movement. Muzaffar Ahmed, the then secretary of the undivided communist party sent him to work among the railway workers. It was there, working among and organizing the railway workers that Basu entered mass politics. It was probably in this process that Basu developed his distinctive style of politics – a style that we have yet to understand fully.