The Bengal elections and the massive victory of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress are personal vindications for me. Ever since I wrote the Bengal chief minister’s biography, ‘Didi: The Untold Mamata Banerjee’, published by Penguin India, for two and a half years I was asked by friends, acquaintances, and strangers, “Why write a biography of Mamata Banerjee?" The fact that she is one of the only active grassroots leaders in India, that too a woman, went unheard.
Mamata leading her party to victory today speaks volumes; more than I could have ever eloquently expressed. The firebrand leader has fought the toughest fight in her 40+ years’ political career. She has taken on the might of several national leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amir Shah, and emerged victorious.
And how can we overlook the factor of gender: Mamata took on a bevy of powerful men and silenced them at least for five more years. She also faced a sexist campaign, the cat-calling of “Didi o Didi". To understand her mind and what keeps her going, you have to look back at her political career. Hers is a story of constant fight and political struggle, a streetfighter hardened by long years of strife against the CPI (M)-led Left Front in Bengal. She ended a 34-year-long communist rule in Bengal in 2011, and that’s no mean task. Growing up in Bengal, I can tell you that there was a time when the Left’s defeat in the state was unimaginable. But Mamata achieved the impossible.
From her fiery days in the Congress and imminent departure from the grand old party to form the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in 1998, Mamata’s personality always foretold of an impactful future. She succeeded in forming a breakaway party from the Congress where others such as Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram failed. Hailing from a humble household and losing her father, Promileswar Banerjee, early in life, Mamata’s ‘rags to political riches’ is a tale of inspiration. She was the original political ‘outsider’ who caught the attention of senior Congress leaders, Pranab Mukherjee and Subrata Mukherjee, with her impassioned speeches, during her student politics days. Early on in her career, she proved to be a giant killer, defeating now-deceased CPI(M) heavyweight and former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee in 1984, marking her debut into electoral politics. Chatterjee told me in an interview for my book, how Mamata would paint her own posters and put them up on the walls of Kolkata’s Jadavpur even though the CPI(M) cadre had ripped them up during the day.
People remember the near-fatal attack on Mamata when a CPI(M) goon almost broke her skull in half in 1990, but there were at least two more such attacks on the TMC matriarch. Her life is shaped by constant attacks; to say she thrives in the face of insurmountable pressure is an understatement. But what next for the leader? Firstly, to take cognisance of the fact that the BJP has bettered its numbers in Bengal from single digits to double. That there is a massive vote swing towards the BJP from the state’s erstwhile Left voter. She will have to bear in mind that this victory may be hers but the BJP is snapping at her ankles with their increasing vote share. And her own performance in Nandigram, after the bold move to contest from there instead of her bastion Bhawanipur, will be a dampener. For now, she can rest assured that the people of Bengal are still firmly with her.
Mamata’s victories have gone unacknowledged on the national stage thus far. Her unsophisticated and often whimsical ways haven’t won her a popularity contest but the electoral results of 2021 speak otherwise. Her popularity comes from the power of the ‘Ma, Maati, Manush’. People who criticise Mamata Banerjee must now acknowledge that she is still the most popular political leader in Bengal and tip their hat to her grit, tenacity, and courage.