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Everyone knows not to take on Mamata Banerjee, like Modi & Amit Shah did, on her home turf

Mamata Banerjee knew much before Modi and Shah that politics is not a tea party. It needs blood, sweat & tears.

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Only the very brave or the extremely foolish would dare to take on West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on the battleground she knows best – the streets and bylanes of her state.

It is on the streets of Kolkata that BJP president Amit Shah attempted to take her on, unleashing a chain of events that saw the destruction of the bust of revered Bengali social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and the Election Commission curtailing campaigning, but only after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies were completed.

But it is on the streets of Kolkata that Mamata defeated the veteran Communist Somnath Chatterjee in 1984 – his only electoral defeat. It is here that Didi emerged as the Bengali Joan of Arc, as India Today famously described her, in 1990, after CPI(M) cadres made the first of their many mistakes and assaulted her, causing her to bleed profusely from the head, which needed 16 stitches. It is here again that she has held countless dharnas, rallies, fasts and protests to ensure the defeat, after 34 years, of Communist rule.

A lot of blood has been spilt along the way. Hers, that of her supporters, and of the Communist cadres who once controlled every institution in West Bengal. For Mamata Banerjee, once dismissed pejoratively as “that girl”, with her political actions dubbed as “tantrums“, intimidation brings out that famous cliché about her – the inner Bengal tigress.

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, greets supporters as she walks through the streets during an election rally in Bankura | Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

Also read: Amit Shah has more than rattled Mamata Banerjee in Bengal

Her combination of insulting oratorical flourishes and her cadres’ often violent way of showing their support has created a power edifice in West Bengal that the BJP may well find echoes of. If there is one leader who can match Prime Minister Narendra Modi in coining derogatory descriptors and in signalling to the party when it should unshackle its raw power, it is Banerjee.

And therein lies the contradiction. For those with short memories and shorter attention spans, it must be a bitter irony that the former general secretary of the Youth Congress(I) and founder of Trinamool Congress had a cosy alliance with the BJP at one point, which even saw her being part of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1999, until she quit over the Tehelka exposé in 2001. At that time, her main enemy was the Left and as she said so famously in 1997, she felt it was wrong that her former party president Sitaram Kesri felt that the BJP should remain a pariah. “Must we stick the communal label on the millions who vote for the BJP,” she had asked then.

Mamata Didi knew much before Modi that politics is not a tea party. It is a war for the hearts and minds of voters where everything is possible. One only has to look at her scorched earth battle for Singur in 2006 and then Nandigram in 2007, which saw the high profile exit of the Tata Nano project, to understand that. Wholly useful at that point in helping her oust the Marxists, it has also forever cast a shadow on her efforts since then to re-industrialise her state. The idea she sold, of Maa, Mati and Manush (mother, earth and people), was seductive and when she came to power in 2011, it was going to be a new cultural renaissance, a poriborton (change), for West Bengal.

Not all the promises have been fulfilled. After a first term dedicated to social welfare initiatives, like the award-winning Kanyashree scheme that subsidises young women entrepreneurs, Banerjee focused on building infrastructure, restoring industrial development and creating job opportunities in her second term. She was at the forefront of the battle against demonetisation, vowing on 23 November 2016, at a rally in Kolkata: “Today I am taking a pledge. whether I die or live, I’ll remove PM Modi from politics.”

Journalist Sumit Mitra who has been writing about her since the time she was in the Chhatra Parishad, is underwhelmed by her performance as chief minister: “The state became notorious for its anti-business stance in most of the Leftist rule. Mamata tried to lure investors, but her party, which is made of former foot soldiers of the Left, now depends on extortionist gangs. Unemployment and violence follow a cyclical pattern. Mamata is still holding out because national parties have vanished from Bengal, and there is no regional alternative.”

Those who like to extol the virtues of a singleton prime minister, may well want to examine Mamata Didi’s long and winding road to power as well.

Mamata Banerjee speaks during a campaign rally in Swarupnagar, West Bengal | Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

Also read: Until just a few years ago, Mamata & Modi actually liked and praised each other

The daughter of a refugee, Mamata paid her university fees by teaching at a municipal school for girls. A novelist and a painter, she wears her simplicity well, in a spotless white cotton sari and white hawai chappal. Trim and fit, after a daily bout on the treadmill, she ensured her party was one of the early adopters of technology in campaigning, using Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp with great skill.

A daughter of the earth as much as the prime minister is a son of the soil, she can match him invective for invective, barb for barb, punch for punch. Whether it is describing Narendra Modi and Amit Shah as the “dhokla mafia” or Modi as “expiry babu“, she spares no effort to embarrass or insult them. If Modi’s bugbear is the Lutyen’s media, hers is the national media, which she feels gives him a free pass.

She’s been chief minister twice, seven-time MP, two-time MLA, and Union minister in three governments.

She is serious about forming an opposition-led government in the country and it was evident not merely in the regional leaders who attended her 2016 swearing-in – among them Lalu Yadav, Farooq Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal, Kanimozhi, and TDP leader Thota Narasimhan.

Also read: Modi-Shah’s poison has met its match in Mamata Banerjee’s poison

Their one goal, she says, is to remove Modi. “Modi is not fit to even be block president,” she said in a recent interview on the campaign trail. “I am ashamed to call him prime minister,” she added.

Mamata Banerjee in a protest rally against the clashes that broke out during BJP President Amit Shah's election roadshow | PTI
Mamata Banerjee in a protest rally against the clashes that broke out during BJP President Amit Shah’s election roadshow | PTI

It has been enough to enrage PM Modi who has talked in his rallies of the “bua-bhatija sarkar”, referring to Banerjee’s nephew, MP Abhishek Banerjee. But her aim is clear: a united India government to ensure the “ouster” of Narendra Modi. Will she be prime minister? She calls herself a little worker. But as her career shows, that little worker can make enormous change.

Dinesh Trivedi, Trinamool MP, who has known her for over 30 years, says what makes her special is her “courage of conviction, fearlessly fighting for the rights of the common people, especially the poor, and standing tall for democracy. She never gives up or compromises, come what may”. On May 23, this may well be proved once again.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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  1. Is the writer justifying the fascist actions of mamta banerjee? Apparently this term seems to be reserved only when modi is in question.

  2. A very well written article. Mamata Banerjee knows politics very well. She may not be the PM but will influence in making of next PM because no party will get majority.
    A part of CPIM is joing BJP in the state, but TMC voters is skeptical choosing Modi over Mamata as he doesn’t know anything about Bengal nor does the BJP party.
    Bengali people are not that happy with Mamata but they don’t have alternatives. Aam admi party should seriously take Bengal as their next target as we(Bengali) are looking for better government. I think Mr. Kejriwal would be happy to take oath as Bengal’s CM 😉 then he will have his own police and a full state 😉

  3. It is a biased arricle. MB has met an equal of not strong competition in BJP. She dealt very well with soft characters like abvp and lka. Modi is a street fighter as much as MB. Let us wait for the results to see who has effectively influenced the voters.

  4. A good write up on Ms.Mamata banerjee.Those who has watched recent events like sitting Dharna in Police Commissioner’s house to protect him etc.shows that she has not come out of her role as an agitator.

  5. Saviour of democracy you bet!!
    That is why people who decided to contest in panchayat elections against TMC were found hung from trees in their villages.

  6. Ek kudrat ka karishma hai. Raw courage, the energy – sometimes the violence – of the street is part of her mystique. A woman of substance. Great pity the Congress – increasingly filled with senior folk most comfortable attending tea parties – could not retain her. If you were a head hunter, tasked to select the next CEO, had two CVs on the table – RG and MB – which would you pick …

    • “Ek kudrat ka karishma hai. Raw courage, the energy – sometimes the violence – of the street is part of her mystique” that sounds like Dawood dada.. A woman of substance ? If you think Dawood Ibrahim as man of substance.

  7. The only reason why the rogue Bengal cm is in good books is because she is leftist. Otherwise she would have been made an untouchable like Modi

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