By Sumanta Ray Chaudhuri
Kolkata, Dec 6 (IANS): When it comes to the question of Article 356 of the Indian Constitution, the CPI(M) had always been very sensitive and most vociferous in opposing it. But for once at least, CPI(M) spearheaded by nonagenarian Late Indian Marxists like Jyoti Basu and Harkishan Singh Surjeet, two of the nine members of the first Politburo of the party since its emergence in 1964 splitting of CPI, vociferously insisted on imposition of Article 356.
The occasion was insisting on the -- then Prime Minister, P.V. Narsimha Rao to impose President's rule at the -- then Kalyan Singh-led and BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh to prevent the possible demolition of Babri Mosque at Ayodhya on the morning of December 6, 1992.
At a later stage several BJP leaders, including Lal Krishna Advani had ridiculed CPI(M) for being "selectively vocal" in favour of Article 356 and slammed the Indian Marxists of having double standards in this matter.
Even the present West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, as the then principal opposition leader in West Bengal, cited this example when she was vocal about the Union government taking steps against the West Bengal government during the closing quarters of the 34- year Left Front rule from 1977 to 2011.
The fact that Basu and Surjeet had insisted on imposing President's Rule in Uttar Pradesh then was evident in Basu's disposition before the Liberhan Commission, the entire experts of which has been archived for the common view by Jyotibasu Centre for Social Studies & Research.
"There were reports that the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya may be attacked by the Kar Sevaks. The then prime minister Sri Narsimha Rao, convened the meeting of the National Integration Council on November 23, 1992. On behalf of the CPI(M), Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the general secretary, and I attended the meeting. No member of the BJP attended it. Unanimously, powers were given to Sri Narsimha Rao to take necessary measures to protect the Masjid. On our party's behalf we proposed that even Article 356 of the Constitution may be used if there is no other way to protect it, though we have been opposing its use," Basu's disposition in front of the Liberhan Commission has read.
Political observers, commentators and historians believe that this development was the turning point where Indian Marxists started being viewed from a different perspective, where, if necessary, even the dyed-in-the- wools like Basu and Surjeet can walk against the announced party lines even on sensitive issues like Article 356.
Historian and an important functionary of the college and university teachers' cell of CPI(M), Ajit Kumar Das feels that in all probability Jyoti Basu and Harkishan Singh Surjeet knew at that point of time that their support for Article 356 might give the opposition an arm to use that against CPI(M) or CPI(M)-ruled states at a later stage.
"But Basu being a politician-cum-administrator and Surjeet being a highly practical Marxist realized the danger of the after- effects of Babri Mosque demolition and for that both did not hesitate in supporting the President's Rule in Uttar Pradesh. That is why during his disposition in front of the Liberhan Commission, Jyoti Basu also made it clear that generally his party is against imposition of the President's Rule," Das added.
Veteran political analyst and commentator, Arundhati Mukherjee told IANS that Basu, as she had seen her for years from close quarters, mastered the excellence of maintaining fine-lines between his roles as a politician and as an administrator.
"So, in my opinion, during his interaction with the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narsimha Rao, Basu's instincts as the- then West Bengal chief minister, apprehending a fallout of Babri Mosque demolition in his own state worked in his mind. That was not an easy task and for that purpose he took Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the then CPI(M) general secretary into confidence. Later Basu in his close quarters within the party had explained why he voiced for Article 356 to establish that the development was just an exception and cannot be perceived as a general rule," Mukherjee explained.
Another veteran political observer Nirmalya Banerjee told IANS that this development shows the political boldness of Basu and Surjeet to walk against the announced party lines and that it was at a time when the general comrades were overwhelmed by the archaic theories of imperialism and Centre-bashing on any issue.
"It was CPI(M) which had been traditionally against the use of Article 356 against any state government, which was again a favourite and traditional tool used by the Congress as long-standing central rulers against any non- Congress state government. But then Basu and Surjeet were pushing for Article 356 and that too a Congress Prime Minister virtually running a minority government then. That is something really bold a move to adopt depending on the requirement of time," Banerjee said.