Kolkata, May 20: 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 unemployed youths.
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 skull.
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 again.
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 youngest MPs.
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 1970s.
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 government.
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 opposition party.
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 Commission report.
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 the goods. PTI