The 2019 elections loom on the horizon and the nation’s political parties are gearing up for the largest litmus test in the world. Since 2014, the political scenario in the country has witnessed a marked paradigm shift. Regional heavyweights like Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi are no more, and Nitish Kumar’s allegiance lies with the NDA, at least for the time being. In the midst of chaos, stands a blue-white clad diminutive yet defiant figure, just waiting for a chance to emerge as the ‘kingmaker’ if not as the PM herself.
Mamata Banerjee is nothing less than an enigma. Her involvement in politics began at the tender age of 15, and her rise has been meteoric. A self-taught painter and poet, the current CM of West Bengal also hold the distinction of being one of India’s youngest parliamentarians ever. Cherished by her followers, despised by the opposition, the ever-tenacious Mamata has a knack of blending in with the crowd.
In a new biography titled ‘Didi: The Untold Mamata Banerjee’, journalist-author Shutapa Paul has opened a window “to the life and times of one of the most dynamic politicians of our country.”
Her teachers remember her as an “ordinary student” who was “weak in English and Maths.” However, Mamata too remembers her teachers from her days at Deshbandhu Shishu Sikshalaya. “Even while leading a political rally through the streets of Kolkata as a central minister, she stopped and touched my feet,’ said Krishna Mukherjee, a retired teacher of Deshbandhu Shishu Sikshalaya,” reads an excerpt from the book.
Mamata Banerjee’s rise can be attributed to her perseverance and the sense of family she instils in the masses. “If there is trouble, her followers are sure that she will stand up for them almost like a combative guardian,” writes Shutapa Paul. This is reflected in the fact that she is almost universally addressed as ‘didi’ (elder sister).
As the discontent with the incumbent Communist government in Bengal slowly set in the first decade of the new millennium, there emerged Mamata as the “champion of the masses.” While on one hand, the-then CM Buddhadeb faced heavy backlash for Singur and Nandigram violence, Mamata’s call for ‘poriborton’ (change) gained momentum. Determined to oust the ruling party, Mamata became “more Left than the Left” and soon supporters came in hordes from all corners of society, not to stand behind her but to stand with her.
Come 2011 and Mamata was ready to challenge the 34-year-old reign of the Left Front and she decimated them with aplomb. Deftly painting the historic picture, an excerpt from the book reads, “A lone woman leader had single-handedly stormed the world’s longest-elected Left rule. ‘It’s an unprecedented, historic verdict. This is a victory for “Ma, Mati, Manush”. This is a verdict against years of exploitation, agony and oppression,’ Mamata said as she emerged out of her Kalighat residence and addressed a sea of people, party supporters and media persons. ‘People of Bengal got independence for the second time.’ Her years of struggle had finally paid rich dividends; Mamata would now be the first woman chief minister of West Bengal.”
Now, seven years later, Didi’s sights are set on the biggest prize of them all but what lies ahead is anybody’s guess for the time being. As the political drama in the country unfolds, read more about the life and times of “the born rebel” in Shutapa Paul’s ‘Didi: The Untold Mamata Banerjee’ published by Penguin Random House.