“I entirely believe that this is a victory of democracy. This is a victory of This is a victory against years of oppression, exploitation and extortion. This is a victory of helpless people, of the hills, forests, and my .” said Mamata Banerjee, to a huge gathering of supporters outside her house, in a historic speech on the day of counting of the votes, even before the results of the Trinamool Congress’s victory were officially declared.
Clad in a simple white sari, her ‘trademark’, this firebrand orator emerged as the unchallenged victor of the West Bengal Assembly elections of 2011, in which the Trinamool Congress(TMC) almost completely routed the Left in the state, with only four out of the twenty-eight ministers being elected into the assembly, thereby effectively ending a 34 year old dictatorial rule of the Left in the state and provided the state with it’s first: a woman chief Minister.
A woman of simple means, ‘Didi’, was born on 5th January 1995, to Promileshwar Banerjee, a Congress worker and Gayetri. This woman leader who emerged time and again as the defender of the weak had been a particularly vociferous opposition in her crusade against the Left government’s forceful land acquisition for Special Economic Zones.
She started her career as a Congress (I) worker in 1970 while studying for a degree in Law from the Calcutta university. She quickly rose in rank and was soon appointed as the General-Secretary of the Mahila Congress (I) of West Bengal. First noticed when she threw herself before Jayprakash Narayan’s in 1975 convoy, Mamata hasn’t looked back since.
Banerjee’s real break in mainstream Indian politics came in 1984, when she defeated Left heavyweight Somnath Chatterjee from the Jadhavpur constituency, thereby emerging as one of the youngest parliamentarians of all time. She then went on to become the General Secretary of the All India Youth Congress.
Didi suffered a setback in 1989 when the anti-incumbency wave against the Congress after the Bofors scandal rocked the nation that cost her seat, but she came back with a vengeance in 1991, when she was elected from the Calcutta South constituency. She has retained the seat since then, in the 1996, 1998,1999 2004 and the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
In 1996, Banerjee accused the Congress of being at the mercy of the Left. As her differences with the Congress (I) grew, she finally broke away from the Congress and formed the Trinamool Congress, which became the primary opposition to the Left Front government. She joined the National democratic Alliance in 1999, where she was given the railway portfolio.
Differences between the Trinamool Congress and the other partners of the NDA, forced her to leave the alliance. However, she came back to the alliance in January 2004, where she was given the coal ministry until the 2004 general election.
It was the forceful land acquisitions by the left front for a chemical hub in special economic zones in Nandigram and the ruthless police crackdown on the protesting farmers that really brought the TMC to the front page. With her vehement campaign the acquisition and her protests against the brutal police action, she rose in the popularity charts in West Bengal.
It seemed Banerjee had endeared herself to lady luck, for, then on, this lady could do no wrong. First came the Panchayat elections, in which the TMC won two Zilla Parishads. Next, she made headlines when she successfully drove the Tatas out of Singur. Then came the 2009 general elections, where 19 candidates of the TMC got elected to the Lok Sabha. Then came another victory for Mamata, with the Trinamool Congress gaining a landslide victory at the Kolkata Municipal elections . And finally, the sweetest victory of them all was the 2011 assembly polls, in which the TMC formed a pre-poll alliance with the Congress(I) , bringing a landslide win for the Banerjee and sent the Left front packing after a long, unbroken reign of 34 years.
The ‘iron lady’ has achieved many feats since. The Assembly passed the Singur land Rehabilitation and Development bill, 2011 which ensures that ‘unwilling’ farmers get back the land acquired in the Tata Nano project, with an unbelievable haste. Next, within a month of assuming the office of the chief minister, she declared that long-standing Gorkhaland issue and signed an agreement with the Gorkha Janmukhti morcha (GJM), whence more autonomy will be given to the hill council of Darjeeling.
However, Mamata’s political journey was far from being a bed of roses. Her split with the NDA over the Eastern Railway issue portended the beginning of a long spell of bad luck for the TMC. First they lost the assembly elections of 2002. Then came the 2004 general elections where she emerged the only Trinamool leader to win a seat from West Bengal. Thereafter, came the Kolkata Municipal elections of 2004, where the party Lost control of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. She has also, in the past, courted several controversies, and she has been accused of being soft on the Maoists, even to the extent of supporting them.
From her Mahila Congress days to the President of the Trinamool Congress, is an important ally at the centre, Banerjee has come a long way. Despite her success, Didi has been known for her simple living. “I am a simple man” she once said proudly. She still lives in her modest lower middle class home at Kalighat.
While praising Mamata, Partha Chaterjee, a Trinamool leader who has been with Didi since her college days, once said “Courage and conviction are two words very easy to pronounce, but very difficult to practise. She is a lady who never wore lipstick, never wore a sari that cost more than Rs 500,”
How the Trinamool Congress can change the battered and bruised West Bengal is yet to be seen. However, one thing is certain. Her fiery leadership, her skills as an orator, her ability to touch people’s hearts, and her simple living have made her one of the most popular leaders India has seen.