From dust to the dawn of a new era, Didi's come a long way | kolkata | Hindustan Times
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From dust to the dawn of a new era, Didi's come a long way

Like Sourav Ganguly, the Trinamool chief has an uncanny knack of staging comebacks. She did it before in the past, and, in 2011, she has done it again. Arindam Sarkar writes.

kolkata Updated: May 13, 2011 16:07 IST
Arindam Sarkar

Flashback May 13, 2006. Saturday. Mamata Banerjee is flabbergasted. As the assembly election results pour in, the Trinamool leader locks herself in a bedroom at 30B Harish Chatterjee Street.

By late afternoon, the full scale of the disaster is evident. The CPI(M)-led Left Front, captained by its poster boy Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has swept away the Trinamool in a landslide win.

In 2006, the Left bagged 235 seats out of 294. Mamata managed just 30 and the Congress another 20. Didi had hit rock bottom.

Bengal had voted for the man who sold them the dream of turning the state into the next happening industrial destination of the country.

"I knew we had to begin again from scratch. There was complete darkness. But I didn't lose hope. I knew that people still wanted an end to the Left's rule," Mamata said, at her residence midway during the campaign.

Like Sourav Ganguly, the Trinamool chief has an uncanny knack of staging comebacks. She did it before in the past, and, in 2011, she has done it again.

In the doldrums in 2006, she desperately needed a hook to help her bounce back, and she didn't have to wait long.

The land (reforms) card that helped the CPI(M) win seven polls back-to-back, became their nemesis. Forcible land acquisition in the name of industrialisation became Mamata's trump card.

Soon after the 2006 polls, Bhattacharjee announced that Ratan Tata would set up a plant at Singur, Hooghly, to manufacture the world's cheapest car, the Nano. But problems began when the state government started acquiring land for the project. Farmers, who owned nearly 400 acres, refused the compensation offered by the state.

"We need to industrialise and for that we need land," former industries minister Nirupam Sen said, at the CPI(M) party office.

Mamata saw the opportunity.

"It was a forcible acquisition of three-crop land," she told HT.

But even though she joined the protests, the Left Front government, complacent under the shadow of the 2006 election victory, ignored the warning sings.

Indeed, it was the Singur agitation that catapulted Mamata back into the political limelight. In December 2006, the Trinamool chief sat on a 26-day hunger strike against the plant. The agitation that followed eventually forced Tata to shift the plant to Gujarat.

But even before the after-effects of the Singur fiasco could die down, the Left Front committed another mistake. This time, the chief minister announced an ambitious plan to set up a chemical hub at Nandigram in East Midnapore, covering an area of 14,000 acres.

There was resistance and the authorities opted to quell it with force, ordering a police firing on March 14, 2007, that left 14 dead and triggered a months-long, bloodied farmer agitation.

"People lost faith in the CPI(M) and began to see them as land grabbers," Trinamool leader Sisir Adhikari said in the aftermath of the killings.

In all, 34 people died in the Nandigram agitation.

"I don't believe we made a mistake in planning to set up an industrial hub at Nandigram," Bhattacharjee said while campaigning there.

"But I never asked the police to fire on the villagers."

But the explanations were never going to be good enough.

In the 2008 panchayat polls, the Trinamool and the Congress made significant headway.

The next blow to the Left came in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, when the Trinamool won 20 of the state's 42 parliamentary seats and the Congress won six. The slide continued during Kolkata's municipal elections in 2010, giving the Trinamool and its allies a sweeping victory against the red brigade.

"By end-2010, we knew that the people were fed up with the Marxists and their misrule. People wanted change," Mamata said.