For Mamata, the elections were only a semi-final

May 16th, 2009 - 7:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Sirshendu Panth
Kolkata, May 16 (IANS) From being the solitary representative of her party in the outgoing Lok Sabha to severely denting the red bastion in West Bengal - for Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee it has been an aggression-filled five years that saw her usurping not just the communist slogans but also their once-captive rural vote bank.

As the 54-year-old Banerjee’s alliance with the Congress seemed set to win the majority of seats, pushing the Left Front to its worst ever parliament tally from the state, political pundits have started speculating whether she can continue the momentum to usher in change in the state in the assembly polls two years from now.

Banerjee’s loyalists have dubbed the Lok Sabha election as the semi-final. All eyes will now be on the assembly polls two years from now to see whether “Didi (elder sister)” wins the final to take the most coveted chair in the state secretariat, Writers Buildings.

Banerjee, who comes from a working class neighbourhood of south Kolkata’s Kalighat and is known for her austere lifestyle, ran the risk of going into political oblivion when her party was battered in the 2004 general elections. Her victory from Kolkata South was the party’s sole success then. The Trinamool was decimated in the assembly elections two years later with only 30 out of the state’s 294 seats in its kitty.

But it is ironical that Banerjee’s change of fate started with the Left government announcing a project that many believed could lead to a turnaround in the state’s industrial fortunes - the Tata Motors’ Nano car project in Singur.

Hours after the Left’s emphatic victory in the 2006 assembly polls, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee announced that the coveted small car plant of Tata Motors will be in Singur.

Within months, chaos reigned in West Bengal as Banerjee’s Trinammol championed the cause of the farmers whose lands were to be acquired for the project, triggering clashes and a spate of bandhs - marking a new phase in the state’s political history.

Banerjee held a 25-day hunger-strike in the city hub demanding the state government return land to the farmers who were unwilling to part with it, but the Bhattacharjee government was unrelenting.

Finally, in October last year, unable to take in the sustained movement by the Trinamool-led farmers that stalled work in the plant, Tata shifted the project out of the state to Gujarat.

After Singur, Banerjee took up a similar issue in Nandigram where the government had plans to set up a chemical hub, and gave leadership to the farmers afraid of losing their land. Nandigram saw more violence with 14 people dying in police firing on March 14, 2007, forcing the government to finally scrap the project.

Emboldened by the double triumph, the Trinamool leader raised the pitch against land acquisition and made the cause of the farmers her main campaign issue, which so far had been the preserve of the Left, which had ushered in massive land reforms in the state in the 1970s and 1980s.

Her policy worked, and the Trinamool made deep inroads into the Left’s rural vote bank - the communist government’s mainstay during all these years - in the panchayat polls last year.

Before the Lok Sabha polls, Banerjee coined catchy slogans like “Ma, Mati o Manush” (Mother, Land and People) and “Sakaler jonyo bhat chai, sakaler jonyo kaj chai (Food for all, work for all)” - taking off on traditional Left slogans.

With the Muslims seemingly unhappy with the Left front after the Rajinder Sachar Committee rapped the state government for the backwardness of the community and the violence at places like Nandigram, Banerjee seized on the opportunity by snapping ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and entered into a seat arrangement with the Congress.

The success of her party in the South 24 Parganas district, and erstwhile Left strongholds like Uluberia in Howrah district, vindicated her stand.

Despite fighting the entire election on local issues to cash in on the anti-incumbency factor against the 32-year rule of the LF, Banerjee’s pact with the Congress also benefited her as she got the votes of those, especially among the middle classes, seeking a stable government at the centre.

With the Trinamool likely to emerge as the second largest partner of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Banerjee’s role in national politics is bound to get bigger, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already promised a ministerial berth to her if the combination is voted to power. The ministerial slot could help her leverage her administrative clout to combat the Left and reach her aim of unseating the communists from power in the state.

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