Jyoti Basu became a Communist while studying law in Britain. He came in contact with the British Communist party. He joined the Communist Party of India on his return in 1940.
He began working in the railway trade union movement and became an important functionary of the B.A. Railroad Workers Union and the All India Railwaymen's Federation. In 1946,he was elected to the Bengal legislative assembly from a railway constituency.
He was the Secretary of the provincial committee of the CPI from 1953 to 1961. He became a member of the Central Committee of the CPI in 1951. When the CPI (M) was formed he became one of the founder Polit Bureau and Central Committee members, positions he continued in, till his death. He played a significant role in developing the CPI (M) in West Bengal along with Promode Dasgupta.
Jyoti Basu made his mark as the leader of the opposition in the assembly between 1957 and l967. He was twice Deputy Chief Minister in the United Front governments between 1967 and 1970. His role in the government in supporting the struggle for implementation of land reforms and in not allowing the police to be used against workers and peasants' struggles was notable.
Jyoti Basu belonged to the leadership of the CPI M) which steered the Party through the difficult days of semi-fascist terror in West Bengal in the early seventies. After the sweeping victory of the Left Front in 1977, Jyoti Basu became the Chief Minister of the Left Front government, a position he held continuously for more than 23 years, a record in the country.
Under his leadership, the Left Front government embarked on land reforms on a scale unprecedented in the country; it instituted a panchayati raj system which was radical for its times, which gave the poor peasants and small farmers a say in running the panchayati institutions.
West Bengal became an oasis of communal harmony and secular values under his leadership. One has to recall how as Chief Minister he dealt with the situation after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 when violence against Sikhs broke out in various parts of the country, but nothing was allowed to happen in West Bengal. Similarly he dealt firmly with efforts to instigate trouble after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
Jyoti Basu became a symbol for the Left, democratic and secular forces in the country. In West Bengal, the people adored him and respected him for his championing of their cause. He became the role model for all Communists and progressives on how to work in parliamentary institutions and serve the people. During this seven decades of work in the Communist party, he spent three and a half years in prison and two years underground.
Jyoti Basu as Chief Minister and as a Left leader played an important role in pushing for restructuring Centre-State relations and rallying other Chief Ministers and political leaders for the cause.
He played a prominent role in bringing together Left and secular parties against the Congress government in the nineteen eighties and later against the BJP in the nineties.
Jyoti Basu was a Marxist who never wavered in his convictions. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the setbacks to socialism, he provided the leadership along with his colleagues in the Polit Bureau to make a reappraisal of the experience of building socialism and to pinpoint the errors and to correct wrong notions and understandings while remaining true to Marxism-Leninism.
He was a Marxist who was not dogmatic and continued to learn from his vast experience in charting out the course for the Party.
He emerged as the pre-eminent and most popular leader of the Party, but he always worked as a disciplined member of the Party, setting an example for all. In his long career in the Party, he undertook various responsibilities including being the first editor of People's Democracy.
He had a lifelong association with the trade union movement and was the Vice-President of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions since its inception in 1970.
He stepped down from the Chief Ministership in 2000 due to ill health and advanced age. But he continued to work and discharge responsibilities till the end of his life. He became the source of
inspiration and a fount of advice for the Party and the Left movement in the country. Irrespective of political affiliation, across the political spectrum, he was respected by all and accepted as a national leader.
The Left movement in the country was fortunate in having such an accomplished and dedicated leader at the helm of affairs in West Bengal and in the leadership of the CPI (M) for such a long time. His precious legacy is there for all of us to cherish and nurture.
Lal Salaam to a great Communist!