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In his autumn, patriarch seeks a break

Calcutta, March 10: Pushing 93, Jyotibabu is tired. Not retired, but retire he wants to.

A veteran of almost all politburo meetings since 1953, when it was an undivided communist party, Basu did not attend today's in Delhi. He was unwell.

'I am 92 and have been suffering from various old age-related problems. It is not possible for me to stay away from Calcutta for three days at a stretch,' he told The Telegraph tonight.

'I want to impress upon my party that I am really unwell and I would like to stay away from all these meetings, especially when they are held away from the city.'

But would his party allow him to bid goodbye to politics'

With the hint of a smile, Basu said: 'They want me to continue as long as I am alive. Communists rarely retire, never mind their failing health.'

Then he sounded tired: 'I have requested the party leadership umpteen times to allow me to step down as member of the party's highest decision-making body on health grounds, but nobody seems to agree.'

For Basu, it has been a 'long journey' since being inducted into the politburo 53 years ago. It is better now to look back on those days rather than be part of the hurly-burly.

'I was quite young, eager and enthusiastic when I was made a member of the politburo,' he said recounting the third congress of the undivided communist party when he was appointed member of the apex body. 'I was very regular at the meetings....'

Now, Basu says, his health is not permitting.

Today's meeting was 'crucial', Basu knows. But he could not make it to Delhi even to discuss strategy for the forthcoming polls in the five states. 'What can I do if my health does not permit' he asked.

The CPM patriarch, who quit as chief minister on November 6, 2000, has been suffer-ing from an 'irritable bowel syndrome' for some years.

'Since I stopped going to Writers' Buildings, I have developed several other ailments. But I always try to get over them and attend party programmes in the state,' he said.

In the build-up to the April-May elections, he would, however, skip meetings in the districts. 'The party leadership wants me to campaign across the state, but I have decided to address only select meetings in Calcutta and its neighbourhood. It is really difficult for me to stay overnight in far-flung districts.'

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