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Left parties banking on Jyoti Basu's memory for a revival?

August 12, 2013 23:52 IST

After being marginalised by the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal in the Panchayat polls, the Left parties have appealed the prime minister to issue a commemorative stamp in the late leader’s memory. Anita Katyal reports.

After their bitter falling out in 2008 over the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, the Congress appears to be warming towards the Left parties.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government has reacted favourably to a request from the Communist Party of India-Marxist that the Centre issue a set of postage stamps to mark the birth centenary of late West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu.

Senior UPA ministers told rediff.com that the ruling coalition has principally agreed to the request it had received from CPM leaders.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Communications Minister Kapil Sibal have received identical letters from CPM Rajya Sabha member and central committee member Shyamal Chakraborty. He had pointed out that Basu’s centenary would be celebrated from July 8 2013 to July 8 2014.

Several other CPM leaders and former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee are also pressing for such a commemorative stamp for Basu.

 "I propose that your good office may kindly advice the department of posts to publish a set of commemorative postage stamps in his name during his birth centenary," the letter said.

The Centre’s decision to accept the CPM request is being viewed in Delhi’s political circles as a sign of growing proximity between the two estranged partners. Although the 60-member Left parties had extended critical outside support to the UPA-I government, the Marxists pulled out following differences over the Indo-United States nuclear deal.

Having been marginalised in West Bengal by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, the CPM could do with some help in taking on its arch political rival.  The results of the recent panchayat polls were a big blow for the Leftists who had once prided themselves on their stranglehold over rural West Bengal.

While the Trinamool swept the polls, winning 13 of the 17 districts, the Left parties could emerge victorious in only one district. Similarly, Mamata’s victory has been an eye opener for the Congress which has been squeezed out by its former ally.

Besides the Mamata factor, the growing popularity of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi could also push the Congress and the Left parties into doing business again. It was the fear of a rising Bharatiya Janata Party which had impelled the Left parties to discard their traditional antipathy towards the Congress and join the Congress-led UPA in 2004.

In fact, Basu and the late CPM leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet had been the driving force in persuading their party cadres to support  the UPA-I on the plea that their main objective was to ‘stop the rise of communal forces’.

The same argument may well hold in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the Congress is keeping all its option open. On its part, a battered Left Front is banking on Basu’s memory to revive its sagging fortunes. It has, therefore, drawn up a year-long programme to mark his birth centenary.

Justifying the request for a commemorative stamp, Chakraborty pointed to Basu’s role in the country’s political life since independence.

"He ran a government in a state for consecutive five terms. Basu had the widest experience of working with 10 out of 13 prime ministers of India. This may be reckoned as unprecedented record in the history of democracy," the letter underlined.

Basu headed the West Bengal government for over 23 years from 1977 until he voluntarily stepped down in 2000 because of health reasons. He came close to becoming the first Communist to occupy the prime minister’s post, but his own party colleagues had vetoed the move.

Although Basu went along with the party’s decision, he later described it as a 'historic blunder'.

Anita Katyal in New Delhi