In an ocean of unctuous praise, islands of dissent

Jyoti Basu‘s death has resulted, as all death does in the eyes of a star-struck, ratings-driven, uncritical media these days, in a flood of faux reverence that would, in wiser days, have been reserved for demigods with the Gandhi surname, and not only the most deserving of them.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the nation has lost “a great son who was a great statesman and great patriot.” As if a photocopy is floating around, home minister P. Chidambaram says, “he was a great patriot, great democrat, great parliamentarian and great source of inspiration.”

The posterboy of communism, the father of Indian communism. The titan who had a finger on the pulse of the people. The last bhadralok communist, a genteel communist, who provided to starving workers in Bangalore, who also had a sense of humour.

Yes, Jyotida probably had all those admirable qualities,and more. Yes, the strides made by West Bengal under his long 23-year leadership in land reforms, health and so on. But did he have nothing negative except for his “historic blunder” of enabling H.D. Deve Gowda become prime minister, who has oxymoronically called him “the king among communists“?

Three voices of dissent.

Suman K. Chakrabarti on IBN Live:

“The Communist patriarch, will remain for me a man who killed two generations of Bengal’s talent. And paved the way for the demise of a land which held much promise for the country. A man who presided over Bengal’s industrial decline, a man who enforced an education system where millions of students learnt “A, B, C, D” after six years of schooling, a man who ensured Bengal’s brain-drain and led to the economic marginalisation and decline of the state.”

Abhijit Majumder in Mid-Day:

“The man I grew up hating is dead. It is impossible for me to look at Jyoti Basu except through the glasses of my adolescent and early years in Calcutta. From massive cutouts, from street-corner rallies, from behind the dark windows of his car at the middle of his anaconda convoy, from the misty black drape of power cuts over sleepy colonies in winter, Basu silently watched over us.”

Swapan Dasgupta on his blog:

“As someone who grew up in Calcutta and witnessed the beginnings of its long-term decline, I find it difficult to lionise Jyoti Basu.Whatever his personal inclinations, he was the public face of a socially regressive movement that destroyed Bengal’s age-old refinement. He led the mob that made the Bengali coarse. He unleashed forces that caused the complete destruction of Bengal’s manufacturing industry. He killed the work ethic in Bengal. He helped make Bengalis a tribe of the permanently aggrieved.”