Jyoti Basu died today after prolonged illness in his hometown, Calcutta (now Kolkata). His death is being reported by not just by Indian newspapers but also by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the BBC.
An Associated Press report published in the Journal says:
Veteran communist leader Jyoti Basu, who in 1996 came close to becoming India's prime minister, died Sunday after a prolonged illness, a party spokesman said. He was 96.
Mr. Basu became chief minister of West Bengal state in 1977 and served for 23 years, making him the longest-serving chief minister in India's political history. In 1996, a group of parties asked Mr. Basu to lead a coalition government in New Delhi. However, the communist party declined, saying it didn't want to be part of a government in which it didn't have a majority. Mr. Basu later described that decision as a "historic blunder."
The New York Times looks back on his political career :
Jyoti Basu, a powerful leftist leader who dominated politics in the state of West Bengal for more than two decades and nearly became India’s first Communist prime minister, died in Calcutta on Sunday. He was 95.
Mr. Basu’s outsized stature in West Bengal was evident by a huge public outpouring of concern in recent days as his health steadily deteriorated. Anxious crowds gathered outside his Calcutta hospital, local newspapers carried front-page updates on his condition and a litany of leading Indian politicians, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, made calls to him. He died of multiple organ failure, according to Indian press reports.
Mr. Basu was known as a savvy political survivor, skilled at building coalitions and forging consensus, whose biggest policy initiatives were sweeping land reforms in West Bengal. The reforms distributed land to more than two million landless families and, in turn, established a leftist coalition known as the Left Front that dominated state politics for three decades until showing recent signs of weakening.
Mr. Singh praised the Communist leader as a pragmatic, visionary politician whose death “marks the end of an era in the annals of Indian politics.”
Born July 8, 1914, in Calcutta, Mr. Basu was raised as a doctor’s son in an aristocratic family. He later studied law in London, where he also embraced Marxism before returning to Calcutta in 1940. He then joined the Communist Party of India and began organizing railroad workers in the last years of the British Raj.
After India’s independence in 1947, Mr. Basu was elected several times to the local assembly. When the Communist Party of India split in 1964, he was among the founders of the more radical Communist Party of India (Marxist). He became chief minister in 1977 as the leader of a multiparty Left Front coalition and held that position, the most powerful in the state, until 2000.
He nearly became India’s prime minister in 1996 as the head of a multiparty national coalition. But his selection was rejected by hard-liners in his own party, who argued that leading a coalition government would betray Marxist principles and not allow him to carry out Marxist policies.
His land reforms won national praise but West Bengal’s industrial policies were criticized during his tenure. Today, the popularity of his CPI-Marxist party has suffered severely, amid concerns about corruption and bad governance.
The BBC says:
He led the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) and was chief minister of West Bengal state from 1977 to 2000.
Jyoti Basu was credited with restoring stability to the state.
The BBC's Soutik Biswas in Delhi says he was easily India's most respected communist leader.
Our correspondent says Jyoti Basu leaves behind a controversial and mixed legacy. Though he undertook crucial land reforms in West Bengal state and empowered the peasantry, the state slid into industrial stagnation and was wracked by radical trade unionism under his rule.
Businesses fled West Bengal, unemployment rose, and industrial unrest was rife, our correspondent says.
Jyoti Basu was often described as a Fabian socialist rather than an orthodox communist.
A Reuters report used by Australia's ABC News says:
Mr Basu's death is seen as a possible blow to unity among a disparate group of communists facing a tough election next year in the eastern state of West Bengal, a traditional leftist stronghold.
"Jyoti Basu played the role of the elderly patriarch whose more mature, considered view and ability to retain the broad base of support were very important," political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan told Reuters.
Mr Basu died from multiple organ failure at a city hospital, where tens of thousands of his admirers gathered, many teary-eyed. Others raised their hands in a Soviet-style salute as Basu's body was carried in a hearse to a city mortuary.
"The passing away of Basu from the scene marks the end of an era in the annals of Indian politics," India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement.
A London-trained barrister, Mr Basu entered politics as a union leader and gained fame leading West Bengal for almost a quarter century, the longest-serving chief minister in Indian political history. He stepped down in 2000 because of failing health.
He led the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) which is at the head of a ruling leftist coalition in West Bengal and which faces an election next year amid sliding popularity.
While Mr Basu's rule was credited with bringing stability to West Bengal, he was blamed for allowing the economy to stagnate, often at the hands of militant trade unions opposing even the use of computers in government offices for fear of job losses.
Mr Basu retired from active politics a decade ago, but his towering stature retained its unifying influence among the leftist groups and he continued to play the role of crisis manager and political arbitrator.
Kshiti Goswami, a West Bengal minister and a coalition ally, said it would be difficult to maintain the leftist coalition without the charismatic leader.
Mr Basu's party and its allies, despite their long years in power, have often differed over policy issues such as acquiring farmland for industry as the communists struggle with the question of economic reforms to keep pace with rest of India.
But his brand of liberal communism ensured wide acceptability for him and he was offered the job of prime minister twice in 1996, but he had to decline because of opposition from within his party.
Mr Basu described that decision as an "historic blunder" in an open criticism of a section of his party's dogmatic ideologues.
His staid and sometimes brusque style earned him the sobriquet of "a field marshal in a gentleman's garb". Mostly seen in a flowing white shirt and Indian wraparound, he was the communists' star poll campaigner, his personal charisma often drawing a million supporters to his public meetings.