Rajiv Gandhi had wanted Jyoti Basu to become the Prime Minister and had pleaded with him twice during the politically tumultuous times of 1990 and 1991, former CBI director and West Bengal DGP Arun Prosad Mukherjee has revealed in his autobiography.
The recently-released book — "Unknown Facets of Rajiv Gandhi, Jyoti Basu, Indrajit Gupta" — is based on Mukherjee's diary entries, maintained from the time he joined IPS in 1956, and his interactions with Rajiv, Basu and Gupta in various capacities as Darjeeling SP, Bengal DGP, state vigilance commissioner, CBI boss, special secretary in the home ministry, and finally, advisor to the home minister (Indrajit Gupta).
Mukherjee was special secretary, home ministry, in October 1990 when Rajiv informally asked him to arrange a meeting with Basu, says the book. The communist leader said it was not his call and only the party's central committee and Politburo could take such a decision. CPM vetoed it and Chandrashekhar — Rajiv's third choice — became PM with Congress support.
In 1991, when Chandrashekhar turned out to be a failure, Rajiv again approached Basu but he declined and referred the matter to his party leadership. Mukherjee writes that he took Rajiv's emissary for a meeting with senior CPM leaders at former MP Biplab Dasgupta's house. "But my worst conjecture proved right ... and thus ended the second opportunity of putting up the Left Front's best foot forward in the larger interest of Bengal."
Five years later, thanks to a hung Parliament, several local satraps, including Mulayam Singh Yadav, proposed Basu's name again for Prime Minister. And again the CPM central committee voted against it. In an interview at the end of 1996, Basu termed it a "historic blunder". "However, it is not generally known that such blunders had taken place twice in 1990-91... largely because of the unrealistic, short-sighted and 'blunder-proof' mindset of CPM leaders," writes the former DGP.
The CPM leadership has been taken aback by Mukherjee's revelation. Rajya Sabha MP Shyamal Chakraborty, who wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this year for a commemorative postage stamp on Basu's centenary, told TOI on Monday: "I had no idea about this, so I can't comment on something I don't know of."
# 1996: After the fall of 13-day-old Vajpayee govt, United Front asks Basu to be PM. Yet again, CPM says no.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker and expelled CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee didn't know of it either. "It (not allowing Basu to become PM) was the weirdest example of democratic centralism. I respectfully agree with Jyoti-babu's 'historic blunder' comment. I wish the blunder hadn't been committed and history would have been written differently. Look what's happened to the party now — it's become politically irrelevant."
Chatterjee agreed with Mukherjee's remark in his book that the country's "murky political and administrative ethos" then would have been transformed with Basu at the helm.
Speaking to TOI, the 82-year-old Mukherjee said: "All three (Gandhi, Basu and Gupta) were different personalities. Jyoti Basu was firm, Rajiv was extremely courteous while Indrajit Gupta was a straight-talker. But they trusted me and allowed me to speak my mind. They knew about my integrity."
About the "blunder" he said, "The CPM leadership refused to see reason and there was no way one could convince them." His writing is more explicit: "All the implications and finer points made out by me in favour of Jyoti Basu accepting Rajiv Gandhi's offer of prime ministership though presumably for a short period of 8-12 months went over the heads of Left Front leaders — thanks to their blinkered vision."
# 1990: Basu tops Rajiv list of 3 prospective PMs but CPM says no. Chandrashekar, the last name on Rajiv's list, after Devi Lal, becomes PM.
# 1991: Chandrashekar flops. Rajiv again requests Basu. Mukherjee says he will arrange a meet if Rajiv ensures Basu is PM for at least a year. Rajiv agrees. Basu says party must decide. CPM again says no.