Mamata, the street-fighting politician and Left nemesis

Mamata, the street-fighting politician and Left nemesis

The feisty 56-year-old Banerjee, who is the founder and chairperson of the Trinamool Congress, which she set up in 1998 after falling out with the Congress Party in West Bengal, can now have the satisfaction of a victorious General seeing all the war plans fall into place.

For  years the face of the Opposition in West Bengal,  Banerjee has been the nemesis of the ruling CPI (M)-led Left Front over the last 23 years and has earned the reputation of being a street-fighting politician. Maverick and emotional, she first hogged the limelight by blocking Jayaprakash Narayan’s convoy by throwing herself on the ground when he came to Kolkata to organise the masses against Indira Gandhi before Emergency.

Banerjee,  a firebrand orator, coined a catchy slogan “Ma, Mati o Manush” (Mother, Land and People) before last year’s Lok Sabha polls and played on the anti-incumbency factor and the creeping disillusionment among Muslims. Her non-descript residence —a tiled single-storey house in a dingy lane close to the Kalighat temple — and equally simple attire comprising cotton saris, jhola bags and cheap hawai chappals, endeared her to the masses.

Banerjee had to shoulder multiple responsibilities — political strategist, union minister, chief poll campaigner and trouble shooter in her efforts to dislodge the world’s longest democratically-elected communist government in a state. It has not been an easy journey though for the current Union Railway Minister who turned her call for ‘Parivartan’ (change) into a reality with ally Congress throwing its full weight behind her. But her energy, charisma and political astutenes made Banerjee one of the few mass leaders in the country.

Banerjee shot to limelight by pulling off a stunning victory over now expelled party leader Somnath Chatterjee in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections in the Jadavpur constituency to become one of the youngest MPs to do so. Born to a lower middle class family and daughter of freedom fighter Promileswar Banerjee, she entered politics by joining the Chhatra Parishad, the student wing of Congress, while studying at the Jogmaya Debi College in Kolkata in the 1970s.

Banerjee also went on a fast for 25 days on a makeshift dais in protest against land acquisition at Singur, but called it off on December 28 following an appeal from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. When the agitation against acquisition was on at Singur, the WB  police fired on protestors on March 14, 2007 killing 14 people at Nandigram in East Midnapore district. Banerjee took advantage of the acquisition scare among the minorities in rural areas and her declared stand against special economic zones endeared her to a section of traditional Left Front supporters, who did not like hobnobbing with big capital.

A staunch Left-wing party like SUCI is now an ally of TMC. When Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee with his ‘Brand Buddha’ image started on the slippery path of industrialisation through the private sector, Banerjee checkmated him on every front. 

This brought her a series of electoral victories in the panchayat elections, municipal polls, LS polls and a string of assembly bypolls after that. But her improved electoral chances in 2011 were largely due to her continuing projection of  herself as a leader of the poor and the rural have-nots, a champion of inclusive growth and one genuinely interested in delivering the goods.