KOLKATA; She worked as a milk booth vendor to battle poverty early in her life.
Over the years, Mamata Banerjee became an uncompromising street fighter
against the Communists in West Bengal. But, as she became the chief
minister in 2011, Banerjee channelised her abundant energy to usher in
development and implement socio-welfare schemes that ultimately helped
her retain power in the eastern state.
Criss-crossing the state
from Darjeeling in the north to Sagar in the south, Banerjee held over
100 administrative meetings in various blocks of the state's 20
districts, handed out lakhs of bicycles and shoes to school students and
arranged distribution of foodgrain at Rs.2 per kg to around seven crore
of the state's nine crore-plus population.
She doled out
scholarships to girls, loans to the jobless youth for self-employment,
arranged for free medicine and treatment in state-run hospitals, and
most importantly, put in place a massive propaganda machinery to apprise
the people about the Trinamool Congress government's development
efforts and welfare schemes.
Banerjee's pet project 'Kanyashree'
-- a cash-transfer programme for the education of girls -- has been
recognised by Unicef. The government's "success stories" in building
roads, even in remote blocks, ensuring drinking water and installation
of rural street lights were played up on billboards, posters, print and
television advertisements and the social media.
administrative meetings, which Banerjee -- the state's first woman chief
minister -- described as "bringing the government to the people in the
districts", saw the participation of all key ministers, top bureaucrats
and police heads, with the chief minister donning the mantle of a hard
task master, and even pulling up and suspending officials on the spot
The meetings kept the district
administrations on their toes as the officers and staff virtually went
on an overdrive to meet targets and execute projects.
total of all these efforts enabled Banerjee to successfully fight back
anti-incumbency and a no-holds-barred campaign by an aggressive Left
The somewhat murky election campaign --
which saw corruption charges taking the centrestage after the Narada
video footages linking top Trinamool leaders to alleged bribery scandals
were made public -- did at one time threaten to derail Banerjee's
On top of that, the under-construction
Vivekananda Road flyover collapsed in north Kolkata on March 31, taking
26 lives, and triggering more allegations of graft, amid reports that
the contracts was handed out to inexperienced people close to Trinamool
Banerjee chose to combat the challenge by telling the
people to vote for her: "I am the Trinamool candidate in all the 294
assembly seats", she said. It was a calculated ploy to take the
spotlight off the wrongdoing of her party leaders, and the increasing
factional feuds in the Trinamool.
However, the poll success has
seemingly overshadowed failings like her inability to tap big-ticket
investments to create employment opportunities for the youth, control
the 'syndicate' mafia and extortion rackets which have become a menace
for entrepreneurs, and rein in hoodlums close to the Trinamool who have
been running amok.
There were other lows too. A professor was
arrested for online circulation of Banerjee's cartoons; she called a
poor farmer a "Maoist" and ordered his arrest for demanding reduction in
fertiliser prices; and termed the rape of an Anglo-Indian woman in
Kolkata's Park Street as "a cooked up case”. The irate opposition and
the civil society dubbed her as "intolerant".
The daughter of a
freedom fighter father who died when she was young, Banerjee had to fend
for her family. For a while, she worked in a milk booth as a
With a post-graduate degree in thee arts,
besides degrees in law and education, Banerjee was mentored early on in
politics by Subrata Mukherjee -- now ironically one of her ministers.
shot to fame in 1984 by upsetting CPI-M stalwart Somnath Chatterjee in
Jadavpur constituency in her maiden Lok Sabha contest.
she joined then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's ministry but was
unhappy because the government was indifferent to her proposal to
develop sports. She lost the portfolio in 1993.
In 1998, she quit
the Congress and formed the Trinamool Congress after accusing the
Congress of not being serious in taking on the Communists in West
She courted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from 1998 to
2001, supped with the Congress in the 2001 assembly polls, and again
dated the BJP-led alliance in 2001-06 as she looked for ways to defeat
In between, she was the country's railway minister (1999 to 2001) and coal minister for a few months in 2004.
lowest moment came in 2004 when the Trinamool got just one seat in the
Lok Sabha polls -- and the victorious Left decided to back the
government of prime minister Manmohan Singh. But only four years later,
the Left and Congress divorced.
During the Left Front rule under
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, protests erupted in West Bengal over the the
state government's decision to seize farmland to build factories -
including Tata Motors' stalled Nano small car project. Banerjee lost no
time and again launched an agitation that eventually saw the Tatas
moving out of the state.
In alliance with the Congress, the
Trinamool went from strength to strength and decimated the Left Front in
the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, following which Banerjee again became the
railway minister. She used the ministry to shower goodies on West
Bengal, and virtually set up a parallel administration.
Finally, the Trinamool-Congress combine ousted the Left Front from power in May, 2011.
still lives in her single-storey house in a dingy lane close to the
famous Kalighat temple in Kolkata and wears her trademark cotton saris
and inexpensive rubber chappals.
Beyond politics, Banerjee -- a
spinster -- dabbles in painting and authors books. She is a good cook
whose chicken and 'aar maachh' curry have earned much praise.
(Sirshendu Panth can be reached at email@example.com)