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Another change, another era: we walked, breathing free
Jyoti Basu addresses the rally after the Left’s victory in 1977

Ajay Bose was 29 when Jyoti Basu stepped into Writers’ Buildings for the first time as chief minister of Bengal. The CPM worker from Dum Dum harks back to the day he witnessed the birth of a 34-year-old red regime.

Who can forget June 21, 1977? The history books will say the Left Front government was sworn in that day. But for young Bengalis baptised in the Leftist cause, it was a day of liberation from the oppression we had suffered through the 1970s. Yes, I was among the thousands who had gathered in front of Writers’ Buildings to welcome the new government.

Like many others in our locality, I had worked my heart out during the Assembly elections, organising street-corner meetings, pasting posters on walls and working as a polling agent on election day.

Before 1977, I was on the run for seven years to escape the clutches of goons and cops who were targeting youths sympathetic to Leftist ideology. I returned to vote in the Lok Sabha election that took place in March that year. I was able to cast my vote but many of my neighbours who reached the booth after 10am were told that the elections were over. That’s how things used to happen in those dark days.

The Assembly elections in June, however, went off smoothly and there was a buzz that the Left Front was coming to power. Yet, no one could anticipate that it would be a landslide victory.

After the victory, we brought out a celebratory procession of around 5,000 people in Dum Dum but were asked not to go overboard or do anything that would give the party a bad name.

But there was no way we were going to miss the trip to Dalhousie Square on June 21 to witness the defining moment of that victory. Those days there were no chartered buses waiting to ferry us, as they do for rallies now. We took a city bus and got off at Curzon Park around 9am. The crowd had already started building up. Basu was to be sworn in at 10.30am at Raj Bhavan, from where he was to head for Writers’ Buildings. We were glad we reached early. The road in front of Writers’ was already packed. We chose a mound next to Laldighi from where we would get a clear view of the red building.

By the time the Raj Bhavan programme was over, the entire area was jam-packed. It took Basu and his cabinet colleagues an hour to cross the distance that takes five minutes. When at last we could see the vehicles approach, a roar went up. People were perched on branches of trees, huddled in verandahs of all adjoining buildings. Though many could not see, there were enough loudspeakers around to ensure that they could hear Basu’s address.

Basu spoke briefly of what his government would do, punctuated by cheers. It was such a delirious feeling that even after he waved at us and went in, we did not go home. We walked and walked, breathing free after years of living in fear.

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