End of a Communist era: Jyoti Basu

The death on Sunday of Jyoti Basu, Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) leader and Chief Minister of West Bengal 1977-2000 marks the end of an era in the history of the left within the old British Empire and its former colonies. Basu as a student in London in the 1930s was inspired by the example of Raj Dutt, Stalin’s most faithful British mouthpiece,  to become a Communist. Although admitted to the English bar in 1940 he never practiced and returned to Indian politics. Basu incarnated Indian Communism a movement whose major credible achievements have not been socialist but rather support for democracy and secularism together with a valuable land reform program in West Bengal, but the CPM also shared many of the flaws of the Indian political class a whole a reliance on an authoritarian and unreformed administrative apparatus and a commitment towards a largely misguided economic strategy. The recent electoral debacle of the Indian left perhaps reflected the extent to which Congress has claimed the credible part of the left’s ground. For more on the fate of Indian Communism see my chapter in India and Australia: The Politics and Culture of Globalisation.

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