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September 2, 2000
'At 87, you can understand the kind of mental and physical strain I am exposed to'
Rifat Jawaid in Calcutta
West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu said September is perhaps the last month he will attend office.
In an exclusive interview to rediff.com, the octogenarian Marxist candidly confessed that he had indeed wished to quit office on September 15, but has been asked to continue for some more time by his party leaders.
Basu said age related problems made it increasingly difficult for him to bear the demanding work schedule of the CM's secretariat.
"I am not keeping well for the past few years. I have been in active politics for over 60 years and have headed the West Bengal government for 24 years at a stretch. At 87, you can well understand the kind of mental and physical strain I am exposed to. That is why I had asked my party leadership to relieve me from the chief minister's responsibilities. I had already made up my mind to retire on September 15, but the central leadership asked me to continue till both the Politburo and the state committee approved my wishes.
"Moreover, our general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet is currently in China. The party's highest decision making body will sit together to discuss my retirement wishes only after he returns," Basu remarked.
Reports of Basu's retirement have been doing the rounds for the last few years. The matter first came up for discussion at the CPI-M's Calcutta party congress in 1998. The Politburo further discussed this issue at its specially convened meeting last December and agreed to comply with the aging politician's repeated requests of calling it quits. Basu was, however, asked to continue till the 2001 assembly election in the state.
To reduce his administrative responsibilities, the Politburo created a deputy CM's post and chose state Home Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya for this portfolio. Earlier this year, the CPI-M's state committee announced that Basu would no longer contest the next assembly election.
When asked if he thought his absence from active politics would trigger internecine battles within the party, Basu said that the Marxists were not hungry for power unlike other major political parties of India.
"Ours is not a bourgeois party. We firmly believe in the democratic process. We have always endeavoured hard for the upliftment of the working class. A true Communist will never hanker for power. And especially when everybody including our Front partners have unanimously chosen Buddha as my heir apparent, I don't foresee any factional feuds likely to plague our party. Buddha has been doing a stupendous job as both home minister and deputy CM. I am convinced he will emerge as an equally successful chief minister," India's longest serving CM added.
Basu blamed Trinamul Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee for creating a law and order problem in an "otherwise peaceful West Bengal." Holding the Union railway minister responsible for the ongoing political clashes in Midnapore, Basu said things assumed alarming proportions only after "this lady visited Keshpur and made inflammatory and provocative speeches there."
"I pity her (Mamata). It was her armed supporters who had driven our cadres out of their homes. Thankfully, they have now begun returning to their respective places. Everybody who has been watching the developments in Bengal closely knows the violent nature of the Trinamul and its leaders. I have told my leaders that even if a family has fled their home due to the fear of CPI-M workers, it is our duty that they should be brought back safely and rehabilitated where they once belonged. Violence is what we have never believed in. It's the weakness of our rivals who are getting increasingly disenchanted by our continuance in power. What is our fault if the people of Bengal have been reposing faith in our administrative skills?" he said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's recent announcement about altering its policy towards Muslims came under scathing attack. Basu felt the change indicated the BJP's need to woo decisive minority vote-bank. According to Basu, the BJP was an outfit bereft of "correct ideology and right philosophy."
"They once smashed Muslims's places of worships, spearheaded riots, and fuelled communal passions. And see the same people are now showering sympathy for the minorities. The talk of change in policy is nothing but a ingenious ploy to achieve their hidden agenda which they have been forced to put under the carpet following the compulsion of alliance politics. But even this appeasing policy will not help the party a bit. Their true colour is now known to all and sundry," Basu remarked.
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