As Mamata Banerjee – the current (and first woman to be) Chief Minister of West Bengal, the only sitting woman Chief Minister in the country – turns 66 today, find out more about the fiery leader here.
The woman who defeated a veteran party
Bringing down a 34-year-long rule by the Leftist government in West Bengal (in 2011) is surely the top feat of Mamata Banerjee, who is also the founder of the current ruling party -the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC). She is now serving her second consecutive term as the Chief Minister of West Bengal.
It was following her party’s protest against the controversial Tata Nano project - which displaced thousands of farmers - in Singur (from 2006) that the CPI(M) was brought to its knees. Mamata, true to her word, returned 400 acres of land to the farmers as soon as she came to power. In 2012, TIME magazine called her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
No family in politics
In a country where dynasty politics has been a constant topic of criticism, Mamata established herself as a leader of the masses with absolutely no political background. Born in a humble household, Mamata lost her father when she was a teenager, and lived with her mother till she passed away in 2011. Mamata never married, and has dedicated her life to public service. Known for her austerity - Mamata is always seen in plain cotton saree and rubber slippers - she is also a published author around two dozen books and a self-taught artist who often conducts her own exhibitions.
An avid follower of the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Mamata grabbed headlines in 1975 when she blocked an anti-Indira rally by political leader Jayaprakash Narayan by throwing herself in front of his car. Mamata is, in fact, the angry young woman who became the angry veteran leader : she has been known for her short temper and dramatic tantrums inside and outside the Parliament. A few years ago, she was criticised for calling a college student - who questioned her policies in a television show - a Maoist cadre.
Allies and enemies
Mamata has worked with the Indian National Congress and has even allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party at various points. In fact, her political life started at the age of 15 when she was volunteering for the Indian National Congress. She became Secretary of the Mahila Congress in 1976 and that of Youth Congress in 1984. She left the Congress in 1997, accusing it of supporting the CPI (M) in West Bengal, to launch her own party.
Although she has vehemently criticised the current BJP government’s demonetisation move in 2016 and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, she maintains a personal camaraderie with the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who has claimed that she gifts him a kurta every year.
Union Minister at 36
Before becoming the Chief Minister in West Bengal, Mamata was active in various roles at the Parliament too. In fact, in the1984 general elections, she defeated CPI(M)’s veteran leader Somnath Chatterjee from Jadavpur constituency, to become one of the youngest MPs from Bengal. Becoming a Union Minister for three ministries in the Narasimha Rao government in 1991, at the age of 36, Mamata had even dared to fight her own party’s government regarding certain policies.
In 1999, she was part of the BJP-led NDA government, and became the first woman to be the Railway Minister. She is remembered for introducing 19 trains in 2000 -2001 before leaving the coalition to join hands with the Congress party to fight the Left in West Bengal. However, TMC did not make a mark in that election, and Mamata was the only MP from TMC in the 2004 Lok Sabha election.
Her second tenure as the Railways minister began in 2009, as part of the Congress-led UPA government. She left the position in 2011 to take over as West Bengal CM.