Didi’s entry into national politics

Mamata’s rise in Indian politics

In a humid summer afternoon just a decade back, as election results came trickling in there was virtually stoic silence at the dingy lanes of Kalighat, where Mamata Banerjee lives. Her party had been obliterated in a deep undercurrent of anti-incumbency against NDA very few picked up. Two years later when the assembly elections came, TMC cut a sorry figure. From the media to commoners, it was brand Buddha all the way. A lot of pundits wrote didi off permanently. But she kept her nose close to the ground and like a wosunded tigress pounced on her chance when it came. On the dual issue of Nandigram and Singur, she made her friends and opponents alike to sit back and notice. The rest was history.

This doggedness in attitude and the uncanny ability to latch into issues that matter have been the cornerstone of her meteoric rise. Her foray into national politics may have been fleeting till now, but many believe didi of 2014 is a changed person. She is no longer the impulsive politician who resigned from the Rail ministry just after the Tehelka controversy broke out. Personally incorruptible, she knows politics is all about striking the right deal at the right time.

Her first brush with Delhi durbar was as a minister of state for Youth Affairs and Sports in Narasimha Rao’s government. The stint didn’t last long but it gave her a template to work on. Bengal congress at that time (some will say still) was festered with leaders having no mass base happy eating crumbs from their Left comrades. Didi was different. High on theatrics and rhetoric, keeping anti-left stance as a badge of honour she sojourned on. So much so, she even threw paper at the then Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee once.

Her critics point out to her authoritarian and deeply parochial mind-set. She is alleged to be blatantly partisan and narrow minded finding CPIM’s shorojantro (Left’s conspiracy) at even valid criticism. Her supporters allude to her austere lifestyle, her secular image and unflinching love for Bengal. But what can’t be denied is her strength of conviction. She is the only leader from the extended Congress family who could successfully carve out a party. Even the great Maratha Sharad Pawar plays second fiddle to Congress in the state.

She has ruthlessly finished Congress, stopped BJP from making its presence felt in Bengal even after allying with them. Critics sneer at her for being resignation minister. She has resigned from the Union Ministry thrice. She cracks down on rebellion ruthlessly as poor Dinesh Trivedi found out when he was forced to resign (what else!) from the Rail ministry. M.P from 1984 (barring couple of years) till she became C.M, didi enjoys huge goodwill across political spectrum. Vajpayee as P.M came to visit her mother; the Gandhis too harp a soft corner for Mamata.

Some point out to a couple of gaffes which has pushed her back in national politics. Her unwillingness to initially back Pranab Mukherjee as President and excessive dependence on Anna Hazare haven’t paid much dividends. Currently her main goal is to occupy the space which Left enjoyed in national politics. Didi is betting heavily on this election to reach that goal. She has gone on record to say that TMC will be the third largest party.

In a classic hung parliament she hopes to be a kingmaker or maybe a queen of the federal front she has envisioned. Even if TMC has to sit in the opposition, with Modi as P.M, didi will try to leverage her secular image to increase acceptability among the larger non Congress – non BJP parties. As they say, dilli abhi door hain. It’s still a long way to go for her, but the journey has begun in a strong note.

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