Mamata: the single-woman army who crushed the mighty Left | india | Hindustan Times
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Mamata: the single-woman army who crushed the mighty Left

india Updated: May 20, 2011 13:21 IST

There was a time when poverty forced her to become a milk vendor. That was the only way she could help her widowed mother bring up her younger siblings. Those difficult years steeled Mamata Banerjee, whose decades old one-point agenda -- of ousting the Communists from West Bengal -- finally became a reality on Friday.

For too long, too many people viewed the perennially shrill Mamata as a maverick and lacking in political acumen, one who could never get the winning combination right despite picking new partners and dumping old ones.

But the gritty 56-year-old lumbered on, never taking her eyes off the mission to crush the larger-than-life Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) -- one of the most successful Communist parties in the world -- even as some of her colleagues gave up exhausted.

From being her party's solitary member in the previous Lok Sabha and winning only 30 of the 294 seats in 2006, it has been a fascinating but roller coaster ride for a woman who founded the Trinamool only 13 years ago after quitting the Congress.

The daughter of a freedom fighter father who died when she was young, Banerjee could hardly enjoy her salad days as she had to fend for her family. For a while, she worked in a milk booth as a vendor-attendant.

Her baptism in politics came in the 1970s as a stormy petrel of the Congress students wing Chhatra Parishad, which played a key role in wiping out the Maoists from Kolkata then.

With a postgraduate degree in arts besides degrees in law and education, Banerjee was mentored early on in politics by Subrata Mukherjee - now ironically one of her followers in the Trinamool.

Banerjee, however, remained largely unknown outside of West Bengal until 1984 when she worsted CPI-M stalwart Somnath Chatterjee in Jadavpur -- in her maiden Lok Sabha contest.

There has been no looking back since.

In 1991, she joined prime minister PV Narasimha Rao's ministry but was unhappy because the government was indifferent to her proposal to develop sports. She lost the portfolio in 1993.

Once Banerjee realised -- and said so -- that the Congress did not really wanting to take on the Communists in West Bengal, she quit the party and formed the Trinamool Congress.

Some felt she had committed political harakiri.

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 the Left.

In between, she was the country's railway minister twice (1991 to 2001 and for a few months in 2004).

Despite becoming a cabinet minister, Banerjee continued to live in her single-storey house in a dingy lane close to the famed Kalighat temple in Kolkata.

Her attire was always the same: cotton saris, a 'jhola' bag and cheap rubber chappals. It was a picture that endeared the seven time MP to her sympathisers.

Outside of politics, Banerjee dabbles in painting, she is a also writer with several books to her credit. She is a good cook whose chicken and aar maachh curry have won wide praise.

Secular to the core although deeply religious, Banerjee - a Brahmin -organises an annual Kali worship at her residence and herself distributes prasad to all and sundry.

And one who plays the synthesizer deep into the night, Banerjee, who chose not to get married, is known to hit the bed only at the crack of dawn.

Her lowest moment came in 2004 when her party was crushed in the Lok Sabha election in West Bengal -- and the victorious Left decided to back the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

But only five years later, the Left and Congress divorced.

As protests erupted in West Bengal over the Left's decision to seize farmland to build factories, Banerjee plunged into the movement, virtually paralysing the state government.

Quickly, she won the support of a wide section: the civil society, the disgruntled leftists and even the Maoists.

Both in 2009 and now, Banerjee used her catchy slogan "Ma, Mati o Manush" (Mother, Earth and People) and played on the anti-incumbency factor to overcome three decades of Left rule.

From 2006 to 2011, as West Bengal was enveloped by unrest, Banerjee crippled the once mighty Communists bit by bit by usurping their slogans and issues -- and their rural vote bank aggressively.

The coming days could be tough. Banerjee has inherited an exchequer high on debt.

"Moreover the sort of promises she has made like converting Kolkata into London, the sea resort of Digha into Goa and north Bengal into Switzerland may subject her to bitter criticism if she fails to deliver," Congress leader Arunava Ghosh said.

Trinamool leader Partha Chatterjee disagreed: "Mamata Banerjee is totally clean and honest. She has dedicated her life to the people."