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Jyoti Basu, 94, the YouTube star

Saubhadro Chatterji  |  New Delhi 

The former West Bengal chief minister outperforms his younger Left colleagues in cyberspace.

Jyoti Basu’s frail health does not permit him to take part in raucous rallies and public meetings. Yet, of all his Communist colleagues, this spare nonagenarian, who was chief minister of West Bengal from 1977 to 2000, is the biggest crowd puller — even among cyber communists.

Basu’s recently recorded appeal to party cadres and voters for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections was uploaded on the party’s special election website through YouTube — considered the most popular cyber video site of youth — on March 17.

Till Wednesday morning, 2,309 viewers had accessed Basu’s video on YouTube. The video also received five stars — the highest rating given to a YouTube video.

Although Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Prakash Karat, at 60, is closer to the younger generation than Basu, his recent video does not record so many hits. Karat’s opening remarks during the release of the party’s manifesto on March 17 were uploaded on YouTube, but had received just 26 hits till Wednesday and no rating.

The full version of Karat’s video, along with Politburo member Sitaram Yechury’s sermon on the economic crisis, has been uploaded on the party’s website through Google video. Since Google doesn’t provide details about the number of “hits” for its videos, the popularity of these versions cannot be established.

A video of Karat's speech on the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement, however, remains the most popular contribution of a Left leader on YouTube, drawing 7,089 views till Wednesday morning. But this was posted more than a year ago.

Some of the CPI(M)'s cyber-savvy workers or fans regularly upload videos of the party's top leaders on the Net. The party also provides video speeches on important issues in its special poll website — Apart from Basu, Karat and Yechury, two other Politburo members — Brinda Karat and Md Amin — have also found space on the party’s internet initiative to woo voters. Brinda Karat talks about food security and high prices and Md Amin laments over the fate of the working class under the United Progressive Alliance.

Basu no longer holds an official position in the party, the largest of the four Left parties in the current Lok Sabha, but is a "special invitee" to the Politburo. Yet, even as leaders like Prakash Karat, Yechury, current West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Brinda Karat and Pinarayi Vijayan share the maximum burden of the main campaign in different parts of the country, Basu remains a pivotal character in the party’s run up to the polls. Other top leaders may provide loads of points, counter-points, sharp political attacks and ideological dimensions to politics in the Lok Sabha election campaign, but no one can match the 94-year old Jyotibabu in providing the much-needed emotional stimulus to its cadres and his trade-mark incomplete sentences.

Party insiders fondly recall an incident during the 2004 elections. After the BJP managed to win the Dumdum Lok Sabha seat (where Basu himself was a voter) in 1999, sending shockwaves through the CPI(M), Basu led the mission to win back the Left bastion in 2004.

Since the party had suffered the loss due to severe in-fighting, Basu addressed a joint meeting of the rival factions and said, “I may not live till 2009. Before I die, I wish to see Dumdum back in the hands of our party.” The appeal did the magic and the rivals worked together to ensure a massive victory of the CPI(M) from that seat in the 2004 election.

The party, which generally avoids eulogising personalities, has posted Basu’s picture on the masthead of its election site. “Jyoti Basu is the only member of our first Politburo of 1964 who is still alive. He has been hailed as the living legend of the party. So, there’s nothing wrong if we display his photo on our site,” Yechury said at the launch of the website last week.

And for Jyoti Basu, confined to Indira Bhawan, Kolkata, history has run a full circle. The man who once spearheaded the infamous anti-computerisation movement in the state, a position he subsequently reversed, is now the biggest hit in the virtual communist world on the web.

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First Published: Thu, March 26 2009. 00:07 IST