The son smokes English cigarettes and likes golf. The father likes to play political games. The son spends his evenings watching American movies on video, sipping Scotch whisky on the rocks, and attending endless cocktail parties. The father is glued to his big oval desk in the evenings, reading files,The son smokes English cigarettes and likes golf. The father likes to play political games. The son spends his evenings watching American movies on video, sipping Scotch whisky on the rocks, and attending endless cocktail parties. The father is glued to his big oval desk in the evenings, reading files in his office at Writers’ Building, the state secretariat. “I don’t throw my weight about. I don’t ask bureaucrats to do this or that… my father feels safe with me. He knows I’ll never use any extra constitutional authority.”Subhabrata (Chandan) BasuThe son is clad in the typical businessman’s uniform – a smartly-cut safari suit or a pin-stripe three-piece. The father sports his trade-mark dhoti and kurta. The old man’s Bible is Das Kapital. The younger man is a fast-blossoming capitalist.At 30, Subhabrata Basu, alias Chandan, the lean and tall only child of Jyoti Basu, the Marxist chief minister of West Bengal, is poised to become one of the archetypes of Left demonology – a self-made businessman.With only three years in full-time business, Chandan now heads three separate companies with an annual turnover of over Rs 2 crore. Last fortnight, his third and latest company, Eastern Snackfood, was strongly recommended by his banker, Punjab National Bank, for a Rs 15-lakh term loan from the West Bengal Financial Corporation (WBFC).The loan will enable him to set up his second biscuit factory, a Rs 38-lakh project, after the Eastern Biscuits Company Private Limited (EBCO), set up in 1980, Eastern Snackfood, together with the two units at EBCO, will roll out 9,600 tonnes of biscuits every year, thus placing the group at the number two position in West Bengal after Britannia, the multinational giant, whose Calcutta unit makes 18,000 tonnes annually.advertisementChandan’s other venture, Eastern Bulk Carriers (EBC), a trucking agency, has also achieved startling gains in recent months, having bagged lucrative diesel-carrying contracts from prestigious companies like Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO), the Birla-owned Texmaco Limited, and Hindustan Lever, the soap and ghee giant.The EBC, which was started with only two old tankers, is now on its way to acquire eight more vehicles. In addition, the fledgling entrepreneur is hoping to set up a mini-cement factory in Madhya Pradesh, “away from the daunting labour situation in West Bengal”.Important Relationships: Though the son of a fire-eating Marxist, Chandan has, over the years built up an excellent rapport with industrialists and politicians of the Congress(I) ilk. His mentors and friends include Jit Paul, the owner of Park Hotel in Calcutta, Capital Park Hotel in New Delhi, the helmsman of the Aminchand Pyarelal group, and a professed supporter of Mrs Gandhi; Kamal Nath, the Congress(l) MP from Chhindwara; and Subrata Mukherjee, the powerful Congress(I) MLA from Calcutta.Last July, he moved into his new flat (61, Queen’s Mansion) which is rented in the name of Flury’s Swiss Confectioners, a Jit Paul-owned company. Says he: “I needed a flat but, believe me, in Calcutta nobody would let out a flat to the chief minister’s son, fearing that eviction would be impossible. So uncle Jit Paul appointed me the bakery consultant to Flury’s, and here I am.”Kamal Nath is so enamoured of Chandan that he makes it a point to meet him each time he visits Calcutta, his home town. Said Nath: “Chandan is entirely different from the breed of Suresh Rams and Kanti Desais. He is far more sensible than his father.” One of Chandan’s co-directors at EBCO, and his co-partner both in EBC and Eastern Snackfood, Nandlal Shaw was a Youth Congress activist during the Emergency, and was close to Nath. The dark and stout Shaw, 38, who was himself a transportation agent, helped Chandan tide over a liquidity crisis in the initial months of EBCO.Despite such bonhomie with the Congress(I) brass, Chandan’s name is periodically dragged into Assembly debates by the opposition legislators, who mostly cavil for claps.Suniti Chattoraj, a Congress(I) MLA, accused Basu of “nepotism” when the WBFC, owned by his government, sanctioned a Rs 18-lakh loan to EBCO. Said Somen Mitra, Congress(I) MLA from Sealdah in Calcutta: “It is an undeniable fact that Chandan Basu is being favoured by the state Government in many ways. He got one of the best industrial plots allotted to him at Durgapur, and the allotment was made in record time. And the Marxist party also helped the chief minister’s son. I don’t think it to be a pure coincidence that two big biscuit-making units in the state were shut down following labour trouble as soon as EBCO entered the market.”advertisementMitra was referring to the two prominent West Bengal biscuit makers, Lily Biscuit Company and Kolay Biscuits, whose factories were locked out in 1980. Kolay (assets: Rs 4 crore) is still under lock-out, and the West Bengal Government has recently put up a proposal to take it over. Lily’s management was taken over by the state Government in late 1980. Despite a Rs 60-lakh assistance from the Centrally-owned Industrial Reconstruction Corporation of India (IRCI). Lily is still limping with an output of 45 per cent of its plant capacity.In the toadyism-prone Indian society, being the son of a political bigwig is often the same as flirting with the demon of corruption. Says Chandan: “Just after my father had become the chief minister, offers came my way in droves. In came a certain property shark, supposedly friendly to the Left Front, and enquired if I needed a flat. I refused the offer because the price seemed too low. Instead, I applied for a plot of land at Salt Lake through the normal channel, and got it through the normal channel. Even some of the industrialists I do business with came up with highly lucrative offers. But I insisted on market rates. The point is, there are guys who would put up a crore of rupees now but would be the first to go to a commission of enquiry when my father loses power. I’m just too smart for them.””I don’t expect Chandan to inherit his father’s Marxism.”Jyoti BasuChandan’s childhood milieu is almost entirely Bengali middle class with all its proverbial apathy to business and independent vocation. Still he has shown remarkable adaptability to the aggressive, high adrenaline life-style of modern businessmen. His office on Bondel Road is spacious, well-lit and neatly upholstered, with not a trace of the sloppiness that is normally associated with a Bengali concern.Once a week he travels to the factory at Durgapur in his Ambassador car, and is punctual about his appointments. Novels put him off. He prefers Fortune magazine, thrillers and comics, in that order. Surprisingly, his father too is a fan of thrillers, and awestruck comrades often confess behind closed doors that they had indeed seen their great helmsman browsing through Le Carre instead of Engels on Sundays.Despite his inexperience, Chandan moved quite fast in business. The WBFC sanctioned the loan to EBCO in October 1979, but the factory went on stream as early as November 1980. Working only two shifts, it sold products worth Rs 1.15 crore in 1981. “This is an amazing feat for a new biscuit factory anywhere,” said R.N. Bannerjee, the managing director of WBFC.Managerial Hurdles: EBCO produced heavily, and lost heavily. Last fortnight, its accumulated losses stood at a staggering Rs 16 lakh, having lost Rs 12 lakh in the very first year of its production. Chandan rationalised that the reason for this was embedded in the “amateurishness of the team that had started it”, adding that “we’re growing out of it, mercifully.”advertisementThere were management problems too, mostly caused by Chandan’s differences with his brother-in-law and co-director, Shishir Wahi, 35, a former merchant mariner. Last July, after a protracted feud, Wahi resigned from EBCO as well as EBC. “It was a painful parting, but it was inevitable,” says Chandan, adding that “neither of us could grow if we’d clung to each other.”After Wahi’s departure, even the trucking unit has grown fast. It now carries half of the 230-tonne monthly requirement of light diesel oil of the two Hindustan Lever plants in West Bengal, and almost all of the diesel oil required by the Jamadoba iron ore mines of TISCO. Besides, it has recently been awarded the carrying contract for light diesel oil by Texmaco.Born in 1952, when his father was away in prison, Chandan had, in his own words, “a miserable childhood”. As Basu wove in and out of jail, the boy became a headache for the family, specially for his mother, Kamala, “who is very loving but has rather old-fashioned ideas about rearing children.”Still, the mother was the most powerful member of the family by virtue of being the owner of the Basus’ ancestral house on Hindusthan Park. Basu’s father, the late Nishikanta Basu, had disinherited his communist son and bequeathed the house to his daughter-in-law where the chief minister now lives as a “guest”.Chandan went to the upper class South Point School but could not pass his class four examination. He later went to a grimy, almost Dickensian boarding school on Amherst Street where, says he: “I picked up all possible vices.” In 1971, he finished school and was sent to Srinagar where G.M. Sadiq, the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, helped him secure a seat in the pre-medical course at S.P. College. At Srinagar, Chandan put up with the family of Maimoona Sultana, who is now the joint general secretary of the All India Congress(I) Committee and a “family friend”. Chandan says he spent some of his best months in Kashmir and “for the first time, I tried to study”. But Sadiq was replaced by Mir Qasim, and the new Government, says Chandan, “pulled strings so that I could not qualify for the medical course”.He came back to Calcutta, “as just another Ballygunj loafer”. Later, he graduated in commerce from Calcutta’s St Xavier’s College, the old red-brick Jesuit institution where his father had been a student.Early Days: “I know the pangs of joblessness firsthand. For four years I was one of the city’s millions of jobless youth, shooting applications in the dark, gatecrashing into offices in search of a living. Some of the big fellows who refused to meet me then now flash friendly smiles at me at cocktails and dinners,” he reminisces with sadness but no rancour.In 1974, Chandan landed a job with Bengal Lamp, the owners of which are his distant relatives. The West Bengal unit of the company was at that time plagued with labour problems, caused mostly by its Marxist union; however Chandan’s appointment was, as he says, “of no help to the owners.”Basu with his family: Staying away from politicsIn 1977, he was confirmed in the company’s management cadre, and the same year he got married to Dolly, the stunningly beautiful daughter of the late Omkar Mohan Wahi, a Delhi Khatri who had made Calcutta his home and owned a printing press and an advertising agency. Chandan met Dolly at the South India Club in Ballygunj and courted her for four years. “From the day I met her I knew I had to do something in my life. I realised that ! could not afford to fritter away my life,” he said.While working for Bengal Lamp he did side jobs, like helping out Amal Datta, a Marxist MP, in his construction business for a pittance of Rs 250 a month. As late as 1977, when his father was sworn in as the chief minister of West Bengal, Chandan was walking from shop to shop. hawking 50-paisa exercise books.Later on, he and Wahi met Gopal Bagree, the owner of Calcutta’s largest wholesale bazaar, Bagree Market, and rented a shop from where they launched their maiden trading venture, Omkar Trading Company.Biscuit Business: The company secured distributorship of Everest Biscuits, an Aurangabad firm, and was initiated into the tricky and fiercely competitive domain of selling biscuits in the large Bengal market, accounting for 35 per cent of the country’s net biscuit sale.Omkar Trading soon secured the prize distributorship of Britannia biscuits in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal, and the EBCO factory was originally envisioned as Britannia’s captive plant. Later, there were changes at Britannia’s top brass and it cooled off towards the EBCO project. Chandan and Wahi decided to go ahead on their own.Chandan coolly shrugs off the oft-repeated charge that the state Government has shown him undue favour. “I challenge anyone to prove it,” says he. Rather than helping his company, he feels the state Government, “and its callous, mindless bureaucracy”, have created innumerable impediments “for entrepreneurs like us. young in age, ready to struggle and build”.For instance, flour, which is 75 per cent of the raw material needed in the biscuit industry, has to be bought by the biscuit-makers from the open market at 25 percent extra price. The food and supplies minister in the earlier Basu Cabinet, Sudhin Kumar, turned down an EBCO proposal for custom-milling flour, which would have saved the company 10 per cent of its raw material cost.On March 20, 1980, Chandan made a representation to his father, “the honourable chief minister”, for entitlement of levy-free flour. The chief minister’s office is yet to acknowledge the letter. Perpetually weighted down by the fact of his birth, and always struggling to live down the image of being the chief minister’s son, Chandan has both his hopes and hackles up when he is confronted with a newsman. “You see, being a chief minister’s son finds me some publicity which I need badly because I can’t afford a big advertising campaign right now.” But he is wary of being dragged into political arguments. “I am not a particularly well-read person. I don’t even know what Marxism is,” he says with an almost trader-like humility. “Still,” he adds, “I am just as politically conscious as a businessman is expected to be.”Without mincing his words, he observes: “The Emergency wasn’t a good experience. But it had a lot of good effects. The Government employees came to work on time. The babus kept their desks clean.”Communist Acquaintances: Chandan’s acquaintances in the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) are limited to only a few. “Politicians are hardly good companions,” he says with an ill-concealed contempt for the tribe to which his father belongs.The only “politician” with whom he had emotional ties is the late Jyotirmoy Bosu. the veteran CPI-M parliamentarian. Says he: “After my marriage I felt it would be easier for us to stay away from m/ mother’s house. But there was no place to stay. Only Bosu offered us a suite in his hotel. We lived there for three years.” He refers to Bosu as a “very warm human being” and a “rare specimen” in politics.What does he think of the younger generation of politicians in the country – Marxist or otherwise? “Mostly selfish, and quite incapable of doing anything for the country,” replies Chandan sharply. He maintains that these people joined politics because “they proved to be incapable of doing anything for themselves”.The relationship between Chandan and his father is warm and human. Basu dotes on his grandchildren, Payel, 5, and Koyel, 3, the two cherub-faced sisters. Taking an hour off from his busy schedule, he drops in at his son’s flat for lunch every day. He tells many of his friends: “I don’t expect Chandan to inherit his father’s Marxism.” Chandan, in his turn, says: “I never ring up a police station. I don’t throw my weight about. I don’t ask bureaucrats to do this or that, though I know many of them socially. I play golf with some of them. My father feels safe with me. He knows I’ll never use any extra-constitutional authority.”There is no doubt that Basu feels safe with his son, unless the muffled questions about the spectacular strides made by Chandan’s various business enterprises gather momentum and cause embarrassment for him.Till then, every day the residents of Queen’s Mansion are sure to witness, with bemused curiosity, the sight of a white government car – with outriders and all – threading its way through the lanes and stopping at the door of flat 61.The 68-year-old, grey-haired, bespectacled bhadralok alighting from the air-conditioned Toyota is not the stiff-collared Marxist chief minister, but an affectionate father longing for the company of his son, grandchildren and the daughter-Inlaw who, with an impish sense of humour, calls him “Hitler”.