Reigning chief minister Mamata Banerjee won 2021 state election for the third time on 2nd May. Sadly she lost to Suvendu Adhikari for Nandigram, in Purbo Medinipur district, from where TMC began its political journey.
Mamata, better known as Didi, is the ninth chief minister of West Bengal and is the first woman to hold the post in the state. Popularly known as “Didi” (elder sister) in Bengal, she created history in the state with a fierce victory in the 2011 Legislative Assembly elections of West Bengal that uprooted the 34-year-long Left Front government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
But how did she get here? Let’s start from the beginning.
Born in Kolkata on January 5, 1955, Mamata showed interest in politics right from her school days. She studied history and Islamic history at the University of Calcutta. While studying at the Jogamaya Devi College when she was 15, she established Chhatra Parishad Unions, the student wing of the Congress Party. She continued in the Congress Party in West Bengal, serving in a variety of positions within the party and other local political organisations.
She was first elected to the lower house (Lok Sabha) of the national parliament in 1984 as a representative from her home district in south Kolkata. She lost that seat in the 1989 parliamentary elections but regained it in 1991 and was returned to office in each succeeding election through 2009.
She was known as Didi (“Big Sister”) to her followers and endeared herself to them by maintaining her identity with her humble roots—she wore simple cotton saris and still lived in her mother’s home—and never hesitating to voice her opinions bluntly and colourfully. She was especially outspoken against the communists, who had been in power in West Bengal since 1977.
Breaking ties with Congress and formation of TMC
By the late 1990s Banerjee had become disillusioned by what she saw as a corrupt Congress Party. In West Bengal she also wanted to confront the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist; CPI-M) more directly, and in 1997 she founded the All India Trinamool (or Trinamul) Congress (AITC). The new party had limited success in the 1998 and 1999 national parliamentary elections but lost nearly all of those seats in the 2004 poll.
In December 2006 Banerjee waged a 25-day hunger strike to protest the attempt by the West Bengal government to forcibly acquire land from farmers to build an automobile factory in the state. This issue became the driving factor for the party’s and Banerjee’s comeback from near political obscurity, and Banerjee used it as a means of rallying a growing number of supporters in West Bengal.
The AITC then joined with the Congress Party’s ruling coalition as the second largest faction in the next parliamentary election.
Didi becomes Bengal’s CM
Banerjee had her sights set on the 2011 state parliamentary elections and the real possibility of ousting the communists from power. Her popularity grew in the next two years as she campaigned against the land-acquisition scheme and championed human rights and the protection of women and children. In the 2011 elections the AITC won handily, taking more than three-fifths of the seats in the state legislature and ending more than three decades of communist rule. Banerjee was sworn in as chief minister on May 20.
In the 2016 assembly elections, TMC once again won with a landslide two-thirds majority under Mamata’s leadership, winning 211 seats out of the total 293. TMC contested the election alone, and riding on the wave of Mamata’s intact popularity, became the first ruling party to win without an ally since 1962 in West Bengal.
In the 2021 assembly election, TMC saw an historic win against central ruling BJP after conjuring 212 seats out of total 292. Didi had blatantly waged a war against BJP this election and had held massive political rallies during the COVID spread.
Controversies and scams
Sarada scam-(2014)- It came to light during her tenure and some of her cabinet ministers were accused of money laundering and have been incarcerated. One of her paintings was also sold to Sudipto Sen (central figure in the Saradha scam) for ₹1.8crore, while 20 more of her pictures were seized from other Saradha Group shareholders. She has been criticised by opposition parties for not taking adequate steps against her own ministers who tried to cover-up their deedThe Rs 2,500-crore chit fund scam duped millions of depositors spread across states spanning from Odisha and Jharkhand to Assam and Tripura.
Fake PhD controversy-Until 1991 Mamata Banerjee claimed to have obtained a PhD degree from “East Georgia University” in USA. It was later found that no such university existed and she stopped mentioning this degree subsequently.
Rose Valley scam: The extent of this scam was six times that of Saradha at Rs 17,000 crore. The party’s leader in Lok Sabha Sudip Bandyopadhyay was arrested on January 4 this year and fellow MP Tapas Paul was arrested on December 30 last year. Both are behind bars. It is speculated that a few more leaders may be summoned by the central agency for interrogation in the Rose Valley scam.
Flyover collapse scandal: When the under-construction Vivekananda Road flyover in north Kolkata collapsed and killed 27 people on March 31, 2016, it was alleged that Trinamool leaders of the area supplied substandard building materials that were used in the construction. However, Kolkata Police investigated the case and filed the charge sheet in end June 2016 in which 10 engineers and officials of construction firm IVRCL were charged with criminal sections.
Allegations of Muslim appeasement
Mamata Banerjee and her government has been accused of “Muslim appeasement” several times by different groups of people including the opposition political parties.
Imam Bhatta controversy
Mamata Banerjee has been criticised for starting controversial stipends to imams (Iman Bhatta).The stipends were ruled unconstitutional by Calcutta High Court and ordered the West Bengal government to stop payment of the monthly stipend to thousands of imams and muezzins in the state.
Durga Idol immersion controversy
In October 2016, the West Bengal government banned the Durga Puja festival immersion after 4:00 pm. Durga Puja was to take place on 12 October and Muharram on 13 October. This was seen by a section of the West Bengal population as another example of the “Muslim Appeasement” policy of Banerjee’s government. The Calcutta High Court overturned the decision and called it “a bid to appease minorities”
Banerjee and her government was widely criticised of the handling of the Coronavirus pandemic and was accused of concealing facts by the opposition, criticsand many doctors.
The opposition accused Mamata of playing “appeasement politics” amid the COVID-19 crisis. On 1 April, Banerjee claimed that the West Bengal Government have already traced 54 people who attended the Tablighi Jamaat religious gathering during the COVID-19 Outbreak, and 44 of them are foreigners. Although according to a report by central security agencies, 232 people had attended Delhi’s Tablighi Jamaat event from West Bengal. Of this, 123 are Indian nationals and 109 are foreigners.
The West Bengal Government has been also criticized for not sending enough samples to the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases(NICED) for testing. The government later banned use of cellphones in hospitals.
Through-out her political career there has been many controversies and many victories. Whatever opinions one might harbor, you can find Didi in every crevice and mouthpiece of West Bengal. Today is her third victory for the throne of ‘Paschim Bangal’ with many more yet to come.