Thousands line streets for last glimpse of Basu


Kolkata : A sea of humanity bid a tearful farewell to Marxist patriarch Jyoti Basu Tuesday with his comrades giving the last salute to the veteran leader, whose flower-bedecked body traversed the streets of Kolkata on its final journey.

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Basu’s reputation as a mass leader was reinforced as thousands of people lined the route of the procession and frantically tried to catch a last glimpse of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader, who had a 23-year stint as West Bengal chief minister from 1977 to 2000 — the longest in India till now.

The scenes of public adulation were replayed at all the spots — funeral parlour Peace Haven, the CPI-M state headquarters at Alimuddin Street, state secretariat Writer’s Buildings, then the assembly. People peeked from windows and balconies, tried to break barricades and seemed to have literally taken over the streets of the city.

Touching scenes were witnessed as the hearse carrying Basu’s body, draped in the party’s red flag, reached the CPI-M headquarters Muzaffar Ahmed Bhavan on Alimuddin Street, as all members of the politburo came out, their fists clenched in traditional communist salutes.

With tears streaming down, party general secretary Prakash Karat, his colleague Sitaram Yechury, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, his Kerala and Tripura counterparts V.S. Achutananadan and Manik Sarkar as well as other leaders carried the body of the last surviving member of the party’s founding politburo on their shoulders to place it on a makeshift platform built on the portico.

Former politburo member Samar Mukherjee, a year senior to the 95-year-old departed leader, looked quiet and sombre as he was the first to garland the body before taking a long last look at his comrade.

With small photos of Basu pinned on their chests, the politburo members then gave floral tributes, followed by those of the party’s central committee and the state committee.

The granddaughters of the Marxist patriarch – Koel, Doel and Payel – broke down as they garlanded Basu, who died at a private city hospital Jan 17 after a long battle for life.

Senior party leaders and other partners of the Left Front looked grim, some of them sobbing, as they filed past the body.

The entire stretch of Alimuddin Street was covered with red flags, festoons and banners with slogans and excerpts of Rabindranath Tagore’s compositions like ‘tomari houk joy’ (may victory be yours) printed on them, as common people and cadres formed human chains on both sides of the road.

After an hour-long stay, the cortege moved on, as Basu’s body was placed in an open truck for better viewing. At the next stop Writers’ Buildings, Bhattacharjee paid floral tributes to his predecessor, as thousands of government employees and office-goers gathered to see the mass leader for the last time.

Basu had stepped down as chief minister due to ill health and passed on the baton to his then deputy Bhattacharjee.

CPI-M cadres in the procession sang The International, carried 96 flags at half mast and held aloft posters saying ‘Jyoti Babu lal salaam’.

The next stop was the assembly, of which Basu was a member for 50 years between 1946 and 2001.

With Basu slated to be honoured by the nation, four army men draped his body in ther Indian tricolour over the red flag at the assembly as senior political leaders and people paid their last respects.

Basu’s last journey had started from the funeral parlour Peace Haven – where the body had been kept since Sunday.

Kolkata Police sergeants and three pilot cars were the vanguards of the cortege, with four other sergeants providing side cover – fitted with transparent fibre glass to enable people to have a last glimpse.

Six red flags flew on the hearse at half mast.