Quiet West Bengal mourns Jyoti Basu


Kolkata : The tricolour flew at half mast, state government offices and almost all private establishments remained closed and roads were deserted as a quiet fell over West Bengal Monday, a day after the death of the Communist patriarch Jyoti Basu.

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There was a motley crowd before central Kolkata’s Peace Haven, the funeral parlour where Basu’s body is being kept for Tuesday’s last journey.

Red flags in half mast have been put up all around the parlour, while a red cloth with “Jyoti Basu amar rahe” (Long live Jyoti Basu) written on it was flung near the main gate.

“I will stay here the whole day. I have attended so many of his huge rallies. Listening to his speeches was always an inspiration,” said Jaideep Majumdar of Jadavpur, standing before the parlour.

With the state government declaring a two-day mourning till Tuesday, all official programmes have been cancelled to show respect to one of the most accomplished political leaders of the country, who had a record 23-year reign as chief minister from 1977 to 2000.

A day after the 95-year-old leader’s demise at a private hospital after a 16-day battle with pneumonia and then multiple organ failure, Kolkatans woke up to screaming headlines announcing the death of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) veteran and the state’s most famous political figure for over half a century.

“Bidai” (adieu) said a brief but emotional headline in the CPI-M’s Bengali mouthpiece Ganashakti with a full page photo of Jyoti Basu giving the Communist red salute as the red flag fluttered in the background.

Many of the vernacular dailies made pun on the name ‘Jyoti’ meaning light. “Jyoti nirbapito” (the light goes out) said Aajkaal, while the largest circulated Ananda Bazar Patrika’s banner headline read “Jibon Jyoti nibhlo” (The light of life is extinguished).

Ganashakti claimed that a CPI-M worker Pranabesh Chakraborty died of a heart attack when he received news of Basu’s death Sunday, but there was no official confirmation.

Red flags have been lowered in hundreds of offices of the state’s ruling Left Front major CPI-M, while all educational institutions have declared a holiday and postponed all examinations scheduled for the day as a mark of respect to Basu.

The state government has announced a day’s paid holiday for all its staff, while most of the private offices and establishments have also remained closed following a request from the state chief secretary. The courts also did not open.

However, banks and financial institutions were open as the holiday has not been declared under the Negotiable Instruments Act.

On the roads, very few vehicles plied, as most people chose to stay indoors.

Basu will not be cremated but his body handed over Tuesday to a state-run hospital as he had donated his body. His eyes have been removed as per his wishes. He had pledged to donate his eyes.

The body will be taken in a procession Tuesday to state secretariat Writers’ Building and then to the West Bengal assembly for the public to pay homage.