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A Fighter’s Political Odyssey

Updated: March 17, 2012 4:26 pm

The book provides a deep insight into political journey of Mamata Banerjee, the first woman to hold the West Bengal Chief Minister’s office. Throughout her political life Banerjee has maintained an austere lifestyle, never spending much money on clothes, cosmetics or jewellery and always with a cotton bag slung across her shoulder. She has remained single throughout her life. The 216-page book, which is divided into eight chapters, explores Mamata Banerjee’s political career. Banerjee started her political career with Congress, and as a young woman in the 1970s, she quickly rose in the ranks of the local Congress group, and remained the general secretary of Mahila Congress (I), West Bengal, from 1976 to 1980. In the 1984 general elections, Banerjee became one of India’s youngest parliamentarians ever, beating veteran Communist politician Somnath Chatterjee, from the Jadhavpur parliamentary constituency in West Bengal. She also became the general secretary of the All India Youth Congress. Losing her seat in 1989 in an anti-Congress wave, she was back in 1991 general elections, having settled into the Calcutta South constituency. She retained the Kolkata South seat in the 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009 general elections.

This book tries to capture some of the complexities that make Mamata Banerjee what she is. In order to comprehend the different aspects of her persona, which often contradict each other, the writer has tried to contextualise Mamata within a broader framework of Bengal’s bhadralok culture and the religious and cultural elements which influence her politics and life. The book seeks to understand Mamata’s own perception of herself as a woman; her responses, if any, to feminism; the contradictions between her dictatorial and democratic impulses; and her appropriation of the Left’s culture and radical politics in recent years.

The writer has endeavoured underscore the enormous challenges that lie ahead of the new ruling party and its supreme leader, as West Bengal entered a new political era in May 2010. As is usual with any regime change, the teething trouble this case too has been prickly and problematic. In fact, in the case of West Bengal, political and governance shifts were decidedly more challenging, more fractious and riddled with both unexpected and expected pitfalls. Mamata has inherited a moribund political and administrative state. The first six months were bound to be critical. The new chief minister was expected to send the right signal not only to her electorate at home, but also to policymakers and the Congress-led UPA government in Delhi.

Through a study of books authored by Mamata, and interviews with her colleagues and cultural and human rights activists, the writer has explained the subject in the larger context of thirty-four years of Left Front rule. Mamata Banerjee means a lot to many people—to some she is a ‘performer’ on the stage of Indian politics; to others she is a spirited woman who made it despite having no male patrons, a leader who was tested to the limit and emerged as one on the top. If she is adored as the quintessential woman next door who has none of the airs that mark Indian politicians, she is as strongly derided for her ‘theatricality’ and rhetoric. But everyone agrees that she is a fighter who never gives up.

The book highlights how overcoming severe odds to challenge three decades of Marxist rule in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee became the first woman chief minister of West Bengal. But her real challenge begins now. Will she be able to end the culture of violence and regenerate West Bengal economically and politically? Will she be able to go beyond being a rabble-rouser to become a sagacious and visionary leader? Or will her party follow in the footsteps of the CPI(M), dragging the state deeper into the abyss it has fallen into? The writer uses aptly her experience as journalist and commentator on politics in the state of West Bengal to paint a fascinating portrait of one of the most important political figures in the present India.

By Ashok Kumar

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