Kolkata: Making Singur and Nandigram the
signposts of the march towards Writers` Buildings, Trinamool
Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has made the Left Front, which
sought to set up industry on farmland in West Bengal, eat the
humble pie after three decades.
The road has been hard and long for Banerjee who
turned the battle cry for `Parivartan` (change) into a reality
rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the 2004 Lok Sabha
elections, when her tally plummeted to one -- just herself.
Two years later, in the assembly elections, Trinamool
was routed, ending up with just 30 seats.
Since last year`s Lok Sabha polls Banerjee used the
anti-incumbency factor coupled with disillusionment,
particularly among poor Muslim land owners with the Left
Front`s policy of land acquisition for industry to coin the
slogan `Ma, Mati, Manush` (mother, land and people) which
immediately struck a chord.
But for the 56-year-old chairperson of the Trinamool
Congress a party which she set up in 1998 after falling out
with the Congress in West Bengal, it was no mean task.
But `Didi` (sister) as she is fondly called could
successfully transform herself into a nemesis for the Left
Front entrenched in West Bengal since 1977.
The seven-time MP successfully sold a vision of
development, cashing in on the deep resentment among the
middle class while promising jobs and development for
Known for her simple style complete with a cotton sari
and hawai chappals, Banerjee was the face of the opposition
in West Bengal.
But she also had to pay a price for it. On August 16,
1990, Lalu Alam then a member of the DYFI, CPM`s youth wing
used a lathi to beat up Banerjee who suffered a fractured
In 1992, when she was a union minister and state Youth
Congress president, Banerjee had gone to the state
secretariat, Writers` Buildings, with a deaf and dumb rape
victim from Fulia village in Nadia district.
Chief Minister Jyoti Basu refused to meet her but she
was hauled out by the police and taken to Lalbazar where she
was put in the lockup. She was later released later at night.
Since that incident, she never went to the state secretariat
As a 29-year-old, Banerjee shot to limelight by
pulling off a stunning victory over CPI-M heavyweight and now
expelled party leader Somnath Chatterjee in the 1984 Lok Sabha
elections in the Jadavpur constituency to become one of the
Born to a lower middle class family and daughter of
freedom fighter Promileswar Banerjee, she entered politics by
joining the Chhatra Parishad, the student wing of Congress,
while studying at the Jogmaya Debi College in Kolkata in the
Graduating to party politics, Banerjee was general
secretary of the West Bengal Mahila Congress in 1979-80 and
subsequently held other posts in Congress.
Losing her seat in an anti-Congress wave in 1989, she
was back in Lok Sabha in 1991 from Kolkata South and also won
the subsequent elections in 1996, 1998,1999, 2004 and 2009
from the same constituency.
Banerjee`s first tryst with the corridors of power
came in 1991 when she became became Union Minister of state
for Human Resources Development, Youth Affairs and Sports and
Women and Child Development in the P V Narasimha Rao
But in 1996, she fell out with the Congress, calling
it a `stooge of CPIM`. Two years later, she broke away formed
the Trinamool Congress and quickly emerged as the dominant
In 1998 and 1999, Banerjee`s party won eight and seven
seats in the Lok Sabha polls respectively and joined hands
with the BJP.
During NDA rule under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee
government, Banerjee was Railway Minister in 1999 and for Coal
and Mines in 2004. She was also a union minister without
portfolio for a brief period in 2003-4.
Banerjee quit as railway minister and NDA in early
2001 in the wake of the Tehelka expose into defence deals to
ally with Congress for the assembly elections in West Bengal,
but could make no headway against the Marxists.
Banerjee had to eat humble pie and return to the NDA
and the Vajpayee cabinet in January 2004 to become Coal and
Mines minister till the 2004 election.
A dogged fighter against the CPIM, Banerjee never gave
up and bided her time. Her opportunity came when Nandigram and
Singur exploded on the national scene. Since then it was a
story of her continuous rise.
In November, 2006, Banerjee was stopped on her way to
Singur in Hooghly district for a rally against the Tata Motors
Nano car project, which was a turning point in the long-drawn
agitation there with the Trinamool chief demanding that 400
acre of the around 1000 acre acquired be returned to farmers
who were unwilling to part with their land.
Banerjee also went on a fast for 25 days on a
makeshift dais at busy Esplanade in Kolkata in protest against
land acquisition at Singur, but called it off on December 28
following an appeal from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
But this did not resolve the problem at Singur and the
agitation there started with renewed vigour under Banerjee.
Ultimately, the Tatas left Singur in 2008.
When the agitation against land acquisition was on at
Singur, the West Bengal police fired on protestors on March
14, 2007 killing 14 people at Nandigram in East Midnapore
district where the state government wanted to set up a
Petroleum, Chemical and Petrochemical Investment Region
(PCPIR) on farmland.
Banerjee took full advantage of the acquisition scare
among the minorities in rural areas and her declared stand
against special economic zones endeared her to a section of
traditional Left Front supporters, who did not like hobnobbing
with big capital.
With her `Ma-Mati-Manush` slogan, she hijacked the
issues dear to the Left supporters -- pension, the insurance
and banking sector, privatisation, land acquisition in
Nandigram and Singur, Rizwanur Rahman`s death and the Sachar
Banerjee played her cards so well that she won over
industrialists and even Left parties. A staunch Left-wing
party like SUCI, which has bases in pockets of Bengal, is now
an ally of Trinamool Congress.
When Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee with his
`Brand Buddha` image started on the slippery path of
industrialisation through the private sector, Banerjee
checkmated him on every front.
This brought her a series of electoral victories in
the panchayat elections, municipal polls, Lok Sabha elections
and a string of assembly bypolls after that.
But her chances in 2011 was largely due to her
continuing to project herself as leader of the poor and the
rural have-nots, a friend of the minorities, a champion of
inclusive growth and one genuinely interested in delivering