When Mamata Banerjee won the elections in 2011 to become the Chief Minister of West Bengal she created history – she ended the rule of the very firmly entrenched Left. Since Independence that was the first time that the Left had lost in the State. (That itself is an awe-inspiring record – the rule of the Left in West Bengal for so many decades marks the only place where Communists have consistently been chosen to form a democratically elected government election after election.) Mamata’s Trinamool Congress alone won 187 seats. Her two allies together (including the Indian nation Congress) won 43 seats.
Within 14 years of forming her own party, (Mamata left Congress in 1997 and established the All India Trinamool Congress, better known as Trinamool Congress) Mamata steered it, practically single-handedly, to become the most popular people’s choice in the State. That is no mean achievement especially for a person who was not from a political family. Mamata has made a place for herself in politics and created her power base in national politics entirely on her own work, will and dedication.
Not that it has been a smooth ride for this law graduate who became involved in politics while still in school. Having lost her father at the tender age of 9, Mamata joined Congress (I) early in her life and held various positions in the party rising higher year after year. But as she became more visible, her detractors grew too. She was viewed as shrill, cranky, noisy, parochial and a general nuisance. However, West Bengal didn’t seem to think the same and has retained her Kolkata South seat since the 1991 General Elections.
Though a politician of reckoning on the National stage, Mamata doesn’t seem to think beyond West Bengal. As the Railway Minister she increased the number and frequency of trains to the State. (She allegedly bankrupted the Railways during her tenure.) As the leader of Trinamool Congress she has flip-flopped her alliance between Congress and BJP (therefore viewed as a loose cannon) depending on which one of the two made more lucrative commitments to West Bengal.
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She also strongly aligned herself with the cause of the farmers leading massive protests against a proposed SEZ (and a subsequent controversy of armed police killing villagers) in Nandigram. She led protest against the proposed plant by the Tata group to manufacture Nano in West Bengal (as a result of her protests Tata moved out of West Bengal and was quickly snapped up by the business-canny Gujarat). This coupled with her personal austerity and simple lifestyle helps the disadvantaged class identify with her.
However, soon after being elected as the Chief Minister, Mamata displayed signs of extreme despotism. She decreed that members of her party shouldn’t meet members of other parties even for a shared cup of tea. This was ludicrous. A professor who had shared a cartoon of Mamata on the internet was arrested and kept in police custody overnight. Seriously! Every politician has uncountable cartoons about them circulating around – Mamata’s act was a severe action against freedom of speech. Most despots become victim of paranoia. Mamata displayed mild strains of paranoia when she walked out of a question-answer session claiming that the questions being asked of her were from people planted by Maoists.
Most distressingly, during Mamata’s reign, crimes against women (assaults and rapes) have increased manifold in the State – in both, rural areas and cities, including the capital Kolkata — and the government is perceived as doing nothing to strengthen security. In fact, there have been instances of Mamata actually claiming that the rumours of rapes are the doing of the Left in a bid to defame her and her government. To dismiss the heinous acts as “rumours” was shocking – to say the least.
Despite all this, Mamata remains a big player in the political arena and could actually prove to be a game changers during the hasty alliances that are likely to be forged post the forthcoming elections starting April 2014.
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Image Source: By Parthsanyal (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,