In the run-up to and during the assembly elections, Mamata Banerjee has easily emerged as the most widely travelled politician in West Bengal.
Banerjee was supposed to address over 100 public meetings between April 4 and May 5, the dates for the first and last phase of the polls.
It’s not surprising as she has much at stake. She is aiming for a second stint in power and finds herself in a situation that can be described as the most important political challenge to Banerjee, the administrator.
She holds at least three meetings every day and crisscrosses the entire state in helicopters and by road even in the oppressive and sultry heat of lower Gangetic plains. Wherever she speaks, Banerjee has one refrain -- “No matter whoever is the candidate in your constituency, please remember you are voting for me.”
Banerjee, the first woman chief minister of West Bengal, is regarded as a maverick who has little respect for customs and protocol, and that is precisely one of the drivers of her popularity. She is popularly referred to as ‘Didi’ in the state as well on the national level. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi refers to her as ‘Didi’.
Banerjee started her political career with the Congress in the 1970s. On January 1, 1998, she formed the Trinamool Congress and has led the opposition against the Left rule in the state.
She became one of the youngest parliamentarians in Lok Sabha by beating CPIM veteran Somnath Chatterjee from the Jadavpur parliamentary constituency in south Kolkata in 1984. Since then she has been elected to the Lok Sabha a number of times and has headed several ministries including the minister of state for human resource development, youth affairs and sports, and women and child development.
In 1999, she joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and was allocated the railways ministry. Mamata, however, opted out of the NDA government in 2001 and allied with the Congress in the state elections to topple the Left. The alliance, however, failed.
She opted out of the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh as well in September 2012.
Her political career gained momentum in 2006 when she launched two agitations. The first one was to prevent the acquisition of 997.11 acres of land by the Left Front government in fertile Singur of Hooghly district to set up the Nano plant of Tata Motors.
A few months later in the same year, she launched a campaign to stop a Special Economic Zone at Nandigram in East Midnapore. That movement culminated in fierce resistance by the villagers to the police and on May 14, 2007, as many as 14 villagers died when the police opened fire.
The anti-incumbency waves that were generated by the Left government eventually resulted in the rout of the 34-year old government in May 2011.
But before that the firebrand opposition leader sounded the death knell for the seemingly invincible Left Front by leading her party in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls to grab 19 seats out of 42 in the state.
There was no looking back since then and two years later she toppled the Left regime.
As opposed to the Left leaders who were mostly stickler for rules, Banerjee was a major deviation. She not only mixed with all classes of the society with equal ease but also could pull off things that are considered quite unthinkable.
On the one hand, she could mimic Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on live television and on the other she could order industrialists present in an investment meeting to stand up and sing.
She is known for speaking her mind and does not think twice before attacking institutions such as the Election Commission and even the judiciary.
Politically, however, she is facing one of the most challenging chapters in her life in the current assembly polls.
Hemmed in by the Saradha scam, Narada video sting, and a flyover collapse, Banerjee has to summon all her charms and aggression to drive home her point with the electorate.