Mamata Banerjee, the stormy petrel of West Bengal politics, once again proved a master strategist decimating the new Left-Congress combination and the BJP all of whom sought to checkmate her return to power.
The 61-year-old feisty leader, who had single-handedly wrecked the red bastion in West Bengal in 2011 ousting Left Front’s uninterrupted 34-year-old rule, was unfazed by the coming together of Left parties and their once bitter rival Congress ahead of the Assembly polls.
She also faced an all out attack by BJP which fielded top party stalwarts led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, a battery of Union Ministers and state leaders for campaigning but they finally found that there was no way to stop her Trinamool Congress from romping home to victory.
Founder and chairperson of the Trinamool Congress which she set up in 1998 after falling out with the Congress Party in West Bengal, Banerjee, fondly called `Didi` (sister) by her supporters, has been the nemesis of the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Front and has earned the reputation of being a tough street fighter.
Banerjee earned laurels for various development initiatives in the state but also faced criticism over Saradha chit fund and Narada scams. After taking over as the chief minister in 2011, she had steered Trinamool Congress through victory in subsequent elections to panchayat, civic bodies and 2014 Lok Sabha.
Among various development schemes undertaken by her as the chief minister were ‘Kanyashree’ schemes for girls and ‘Sabuj Sathi’ under which cycles were dsitributed among the students, besides Rs 2 kg rice for the 8 crore people in the state.
However, multi-crore scams like Saradha and Narada had dented the image of her party as the opposition had made it a prime issue.
Born to a middle class family and daughter of a freedom fighter and student of law and education, Banerjee in her initial years in public life was mentored by veteran Congress leader Subrata Mukherjee – now ironically a senior minister in her state cabinet.
Banerjee, baptized into politics as a student leader in Chhatra Parishad – Congress’ student wing in the 1970s, shot into limelight by pulling off a stunning victory over CPI-M heavyweight and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections in from Jadavpur constituency to become one of the youngest MPs.
She soon became a rallying point for the anti-Left Front forces which saw in her an uncompromising, incorruptible and credible fighter in comparison to various senior leaders of state Congress of nineties. After parting ways, Banerjee had often dubbed Congress as the ‘B’ team of CPI-M.
Perfecting the art of the impossible, the maverick and emotional politician, 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.
Defeated in 1989, she was back in Lok Sabha in 1991 from Kolkata South and retained the seat in 1996, 1998,1999, 2004 and 2009. Banerjee’s first tryst with the corridors of power came in 1991 when she became became union minister of state for human resources development, youth affairs and sports and women and child development in the P V Narasimha Rao government.
Later on after forming TMC, Banerjee aligned with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government and became Railway Minister in 1999 and Union Minister for Coal and Mines in 2004. Banerjee resigned as Railway Minister and left NDA just ahead of the 2001 assembly polls in Bengal after the Tehelka scam and allied with Congress for the assembly elections but could not dethrone the Marxist party.
In 2004 Lok Sabha election Banerjee was the only one from TMC to win. In 2006 asembly polls in Bengal her party managed to win just 30 seats in the 294-member assembly. But being a fighter, Banerjee refused to be cowed down and led the protest against farmland acquisitions in Singur and Nandigram which finally catapulted her to the seat of power in the state.
A firebrand orator, she had coined a catchy slogan “Ma, Mati o Manush” (Mother, Land and People) before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and played on the anti-incumbency factor after more than three decades of Left rule and the creeping disillusionment among several sections, like Muslims, to decimate the Left in partnership with the Congress.
Known for her humble lifestyle, the seven-time MP successfully sold a vision of development, cashing in on the
deep resentment among the middle classes and unemployed youths, promising jobs and development. Her nondescript 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.
It has not been an easy journey though for Mamata who turned her call for `Parivartan` (change) into a reality with Congress, her ally then, throwing its full weight behind her. Her energy, charisma and political astutenes made Banerjee one of the few mass leaders in the country.