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Veteran communist to step down

BBC News Online, 27 oct 2000

A veteran Indian Marxist leader, Jyoti Basu, is to step down from the head of the world's oldest democratically elected communist government. Mr Basu, 87, has been the chief minister of the eastern state of West Bengal for 23 years.

He told journalists he was retiring from active politics next week and said he had enjoyed a "good innings" as chief minister.

"We will get another chief minister and he will be sworn in in the first week of next month," he said.

"I am too weak to continue any more. The burden of the post now seems too much to me," he said.

Mr Basu is likely to succeeded by West Bengal deputy chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya.

But some reports suggest Mr Bhattacharya might be opposed by some of the parties that make up the Left Front coalition that governs the state.

Charismatic leader

Mr Basu is the longest serving chief minister of any Indian state and is currently serving his sixth term in office.

He had been ailing and had expressed a wish to retire from his post but continued in office under pressure from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), to which he belongs.

A charismatic force in regional politics, Mr Basu is said to have missed out on becoming India's prime minister a few years ago because of opposition from within his party.

Mr Basu studied law in Britain before returning home to become an active communist for nearly 50 years.

He was part of a communist movement that launched an extensive rural reform programme in West Bengal and has won the party uninterrupted power since 1977.

Analysts believe that Mr Basu's retirement will come as a setback to the Left Front, which faces fresh elections next year.