West Bengal’s boon and bane was none other than Jyoti Basu, whose chief ministerial tenure saw the great state drifting into socio-econoic and political chaos slowly and steadily. When the Left Front lost power in 2011 to Mamata Banerjee of the Trinmool Congress, the state was a heap of woes and lost opportunities with roads full of potholes, thus the highway to progress was a Herculean task. Basu’s rise within the CPM was meteoric. He won his first election in 1946 to enter the Bengal Legislative Assembly, contesting the Railway constituency. He was Deputy Chief minister in 1967 and 1969 and, on June 21, 1977, when the Left swept the polls in West Bengal, he was sworn in as the chief minister.
By 1996, when he became the Chief Minister for the fifth time, Basu had acquired national stature. During this year, when the United Front was all set to form the Union government, Basu was asked to be the Prime Minister. However, the CPM Politburo decided not to participate in the government. Bowing to his party’s decision, Basu declined the offer but later called the decision a historic blunder. Instead H D Deve Gowda from the Janata Dal became the Prime Minister. Citing health reasons, Basu quit as the Chief Minister in November 2000 but remained politically active as the CPM Politburo member. Communists never retire, he said, and till the end, showed that he meant that in letter and spirit. One of Basu’s last public appearances was on July 8, 2009, his 95th birthday. His birthday wish that the Left’s 30 year reign in West Bengal would remain uninterrupted was shattred by Mamata Banerjee.
The architect of modern West Bengal or those who laid the foundation of a stronger West Bengal were Bidhan Chandra Roy and Sidhartha Shankar Ray. Roy of the Indian National Congress was the first Chief Minister of West Bengal. He was elected firstly in 1952-57 in January election. Secondly he was elected in the second assembly elctions for the tenure 1957-62 during March elections. After that he was again elected in the third assembly polls but this time he was elected for a short tenure. He remain the Chief Minister of West Bengal for over 12 years. After that the Congress appointed Prafulla Chandra Sen as the Chief Minister who held the office till 1962-67 elections. Ajoy Kumar Mukhrjee of Bangla Congress or the United Front party was elected as the Chief Minister of the state for the first time on March 1, 1967 during the fourth assembly 1967-68. He held the office for 265 days and left the office on November 21, 1967.
Prafulla Chandra Ghosh was elected as the Chief Minster of West Bengal on 21, November 1967 and remained in power till February 19, 1968. He was the first independent party candidate who became the Chief Minister of West Bengal from the Progressive Democratic Front. He held the office for 250 days in total. After his tenure, the President’s Rule was imposed in the state, which was lifted in February 1969. Ajoy Kumar Mukhrjee again became the Chief Minister in 1969 and held the
office for one year and 155 days. He was back as the Chief Minster again in February 1969 and remained in office till July 30, 1970, which was followed by the President’s Rule. Mukherjee, after he joined the Congress, was back as the Chief Minister in April 1971. During this period, West Bengal saw total political chaos and disruptions in all forms.
Stability was back on March 20, 1972 when Siddhartha Shankar Ray took the reign as the state’s new Congress Chief Minister and remained in his office till April 1977. After his tenure was over, there was the President’s Rule for a brief period and in the subsequent Assembly polls, the Congress lost power to the Left Front. As the Chief Minister, Ray tried his best to revie and upgrade the state’s health and education sector, but he was never given the free hand. Internal
political clashes and continuous violence remained a key challenge for his tenure. (To be continued)