The Rise and Rise of the Bengal Tigeress

Posted on June 3, 2010 in Politics

Trishla Gupta:

“There is a silent revolution taking place in West Bengal. The people are on the verge of writing history … A new epoch will start from May 12.”

This prophecy was made by Bengal’s favorite ‘didi’, the rebel without a pause taking on friends and foes alike, the feisty leader who took on the Left single-handedly and is now heralding a new dawn in the history of Bengal politics and most importantly making that very party dance to her tunes with who she started her political career in 1970.

For Mamata Banerjee who started her political career with the Congress as a young woman in the 1970’s and quickly rose in the ranks of the local Congress group, the maidan, and not the corridors of power, has been her natural terrain.

The maidan is where she has always taken on the might of the CPI(M). Her modest, tile-roofed home in an obscure lane in south Calcutta’s downmarket Kalighat is seen as an extension of the maidan. Simple, artless,if also unorthodox, Mamata began her many fights from that slum-like neighbourhood.

Unlike most other politicians who graduate to more fancied locales once they make it big, she still lives there and lives in much the same fashion as she has always done. In fact, her simple moorings shot her to overnight fame when she trounced heavyweight CPI(M) leader Somnath Chatterjee in the 1984 general elections from the Jadavpur constituency. It could have been the sympathy wave in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, but Mamata the Giant-killer was born at that moment.

It’s symbolic that the government of the proletariat is being brought down by a woman who’s plebian in every way possible. She hasn’t received a classy upbringing. Her father couldn’t send her to an English-medium school. She was a college-going adult in the mid-seventies when politics in Bengal had begun to accommodate the riffraff. She was never going to be a woman who’d spend money on clothes, cosmetics and jewellery. She had another dream. She wanted to stand at a height which gave her sense of a pedestal. She wanted to address an audience who’d believe her. Her oratory was all about connecting with ordinary people with ordinary dreams. Her politics was constructed around three words with which she would coin a slogan years later — Ma, Mati, Manush (Mother, Motherland, Mankind). Mamata Banerjee had  become the face of change.

Somebody definitely invented that old adage “Failure is the pillar of success” for Mamata Banerjee. It’s a clichéd, hackneyed way of describing her enormous struggle. But then there’s no other way of looking at the innumerable defeats she suffered though the decades. Hers was not to be a magical journey. She did not climb to the top like Jack on his beanstalk. Hers was a gradual clambering up the tree of success – sliding down two feet for every three feet that she gained. Mamata Banerjee was up against every conceivable odd. She had to endure a lethal blow on the head to find her political space, to define herself as the one-woman company marching against the Reds. Her party-men had resigned themselves to a lifelong exile from the seat of power. They looked for easy and demeaning compromises. Mamata Banerjee refused to be lured into traps laid by the Left and today the Congress in West Bengal belongs to her.

It is significant that these elections were not about civic issues, not about roads, electricity and water. These elections asked the voter if there should be a change in Bengal next year. And the electorate said a resounding yes.

Though there’ll always be the doubts that the street-smart Mamata Banerjee has proved her worth as a rabble-rouser but would she be able to deliver as a head of the government? She had excelled in street-fights with the Left but does she really have a vision when it comes to the serious business of governance. May be, may be not. Mamata Banerjee may come through as a rustic personality but over the past few years she has matured as an astute politician. Yes, she may still do the unethical by staying away from Delhi when she has taken responsibility for the railway ministry but you cannot accuse her of losing her focus.

In 2011, Writers Buildings in Kolkata will welcome the first woman chief minister of West Bengal, hopefully.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.