After the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, as reports of sporadic communal violence from different corners of the country started floating in, tension gripped the people in various corners of West Bengal over the probable spread of communal tension in the state which had a sizeable percentage of the minority population.
But a short-structured man, clad in his trademark white dhoti-kurta sitting at the state secretariat Writers' Buildings, did not even take a minute to decide his next course of action as soon as the news of the demolition reached his office.
Veterans recall how then Chief Minister and CPI(M) stalwart Jyoti Basu took three instant decisions, one political and two administrative, which eventually saved the state from being majorly affected by the aftermath of the mosque demolition in Ayodhya.
First, Basu called his party leadership to the CPI(M) headquarters at Alimuddin Street and asked them to immediately call a general strike on that day and the day after, as a mark of protest against the demolition.
Next followed his two quick administrative decisions after a hurriedly-convened meeting with then Chief Secretary, N. Krishnamurthy, and then police commissioner, Tushar Talukdar.
The first decision was to immediately contact the Indian Army's Eastern Command headquarters at Fort William in Kolkata and call them along with the police to take the situation under total control before violence broke out, and the second decision was to impose a curfew in the state from the very next moment for an indefinite period till the heat cooled down.
The entire sequence was completed within less than two hours. Soon after he appeared on Doordarshan, the only audio-visual media prevailing at that time, and made his much-talked-about statement, "If anyone tries to create riots, I have asked the police commissioner to shoot them on their heads."
That one-liner was enough to send shivers down the spines of the probable mischief-makers, recalled veterans who watched Basu closely then.
Veteran political observer and the former news director of Doordarshan, Snehasis Sur, told IANS that he still recalls how the late Chief Minister decided to use Doordarshan, the only audio-visual media then.
"For the next few days, Basu made statements for the common people for maintaining peace and communal harmony, which was aired on Doordarshan twice. While in Bengali, his voice was aired, the message was also broadcast in Doordarshan's Urdu section, where the anchor used to read out his statements in Urdu with Basu's picture in the backdrop. It was an excellent idea to send a message to the common people and restore their confidence," Sur said.
CPI(M) state secretary Md Salim recalled how Basu, besides performing his administrative duties as the Chief Minister in that moment of crisis, also coordinated with the young party workers like Salim to move to the sensitive areas like Garden Reach, Topsia and Rajabazar, and persuade the masses to remain restrained.
"It was a learning process for me to work under the guidance of a Marxist stalwart like Basu. And watching him from close quarters in taking instant administrative decisions like summoning the army was a lesson too," Salim told IANS.
He also said that despite the precautions, tension broke out in the Tangra area, where a mob vandalized a mosque and also set some local shanties on fire.
"But Basu got cracking immediately. The police and the army were deployed and the situation was brought under control. At the same time, he also arranged for a private contractor to repair the damages and rebuild the gutted shanties within a week," Salim recalled.
Veteran political analyst Arundhati Mukherjee told IANS, "As a seasoned politician as well as an administrator, Basu understood that political and administrative moves will have to complement each other. Then, the CPI(M)-affiliated mass organizations had absolute control over the unions of transport operators, and shop-owners associations, among others.
"So immediately after the party gave the strike call, the transports were off the roads and the mercantile establishments were shut down. This helped put a halt to the initial jerk of the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition. And before the common people could come out of the impact of the strike, the army, and the police launched joint patrolling. That was the story behind the entire operations orchestrated from Basu's chamber at Writers' Buildings in December 1992." (KB/IANS)