By Parth Gupta
A legislator, a bureaucrat, a poet, a painter and an avid political leader, Mamata Banerjee, popularly known as Didi (elder sister), celebrates her 63rd birthday today. She was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), West Bengal in a lower-middle-class family, to Promileswar Banerjee and Gayetri Devi.
The first woman CM
She is the 8th Chief Minister of West Bengal and the first woman to win the seat of Chief Minister. She has been rarely seen travelling in her car with a red-beacon on it and is known to maintain a low profile. She even complimented the current president, Ram Nath Kovind, for maintaining the ‘low profile’ image while he was on his maiden trip to the state. She confessed to being unaware of the fact that Kovind had previously worked in the Rajya Sabha, for the very same reason. On her 63rd, we take a look at what her life looks like as it continues to unfold and challenge even those, who sit at the top elected and unelected positions in the country.
In 1970, Banerjee completed the higher secondary board education from Deshbandhu Sishu Sikshalay. Her father died when she was 17 primarily due to lack of medical doctoring while he was ailing. Still, she advanced her education because of her ‘never say die attitude’ and graduated with an honours degree in history from the Jogamaya Devi College, Kolkata. She earned her master’s degree in Islamic history from the University of Calcutta and a degree in law from the Jogesh Chandra Chaudhuri Law College, Kolkata. She became involved in politics while still in school, joining the Congress (I) Party in West Bengal and serving in a variety of positions within the party and in other local political organisations.
As a young woman, Mamata began her political career with the INC in the 1970s and earned quick promotions to reach the position of secretary of the Mahila Congress, West Bengal from 1976 to 1980. She made to the headlines in 1984 by beating experienced CPI-M leader Somnath Chatterjee in Jadavpur constituency in her maiden Lok Sabha contest. She also became the youngest parliamentarians ever. With that, she also became the general secretary of the Indian Youth Congress. Although she lost her seat in the 1989 general elections, she was re-elected in the 1991 general elections. She joined the P.V. Narasimha Rao’s ministry, as Union Minister of State for HRD, Youth Affairs and Sports, and Women and Child Development.
As the sports minister, she announced that she would resign, and protested in a rally at the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata, against the Government’s indifference towards her proposal to improve sports in the country. Only two years later, she lost all the portfolios. She was re-elected to the Lok Sabha from the Kolkata South seat in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009. In parliament, Banerjee served in several administrative capacities, both within the party and in the union (national) government. It included three cabinet-level ministerial posts: railways (1999–2001 and 2009–11), without portfolio (2003–04), and coal and mines (2004).
Birth of Trinamool Congress
In her state, she wanted to challenge the Left, mainly the CPI-M in a much more direct manner where the communist had been in power since 1977. Following the two-decade rule by the Left, Mamata chose to form the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC). Although the new party had limited success in the 1998 and 1999 national parliamentary elections, it became the chief opposition party in the state against CPI-M in 2001 state elections. Mamata wanted to tap each and every way possible to defeat the Left. She courted the BJP led-NDA from 1998 to 2001, joined the Congress in the 2001 assembly pools, and again made an alliance with the NDA from 2001-06. Although Mamata personally was victorious on the national front, the young TMC was looking weak as it lost nearly all of the seats won in 1998 and 1999 General Elections in 2004 LS elections. In 2006 assembly elections, her party lost half the seats won in 2001 to the CPI-M.
In December 2006, Banerjee waged a 25-day hunger strike to protest the attempt by the West Bengal government to forcibly acquire land from farmers to build factories in the state, including Tata Motor’s stalled Nano small car project. Banerjee was one of the key protestors, and her participation proved to be a comeback for her party in the state, which eventually saw the Tatas moving out of the state. The AITC had a strong showing in the 2009 national parliamentary elections and joined the Congress Party’s ruling coalition as the second largest faction. Following this, Banerjee again became the railway minister. However, Banerjee had her sights set on the 2011 state parliamentary elections and the real possibility of ousting the communists from power. She used the ministry to shower goodies on West Bengal, and virtually set up a parallel administration.
Mamata Banerjee as Chief Minister
Mamata’s rising popularity won her the Chief Ministerial position in the state, where the Trinamool and Congress combined to throw the Left out of power in 2011. Out of 295 seats in the assembly, the TMC-Congress combined to win 227 seats. On 16 February 2012, Bill Gates, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, sent a letter to the West Bengal government praising Banerjee and her administration for achieving a full year without any reported cases of polio. The letter said this was not only a milestone for India but also for the whole world. On 30 April 2015, a representative of UNICEF India congratulated the government for making Nadia the first Open Defecation Free district in the country.
West Bengal Legislative Assembly election, 2016 was held for 294 seats (out of 295 seats) of the Vidhan Sabha in the state of West Bengal in India. All India Trinamool Congress won the elections with a landslide two-thirds majority under Mamata Banerjee winning 211 seats out of total 293. She had been elected as Chief Minister West Bengal for the second term. All India Trinamool Congress won with an enhanced majority contesting alone and became the first ruling party to win without an ally since 1962 in West Bengal.
Apart from her personality and energy, it was Mamata’s political brain that won her the second term as CM of the state. Over the years, she has maintained her beautifully crafted image of being a hero for the lower-middle class in urban and rural constituencies. Banerjee has also been attacked numerous times for appeasing Muslims in West Bengal. Some of her decisions, like monthly remuneration to imams, are controversial. Other declarations like giving scholarships to Muslim students and to include the community in OBC category in order to ensure equal opportunities are certainly undertaken to empower the minority. Whatever the motives of the TMC government may be, it has definitely led to the consolidation of minority votes of the state in favour of Mamata, where Muslims constitute for approximately nearly 30% of the total population.
Understanding her role on the national front, Mamata Banerjee has also been a vocal opponent of the BJP and the bold decision the central government has taken in past few months, from demonetisation to the GST. Mamata has stood as the key strategist for the opposition parties and has also become the face of an anti-Modi movement in the run-up to the general election in 2019.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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