Mamata Banerjee ( born 5 January 1955) is an Indian politician who is serving as the 8th and current Chief Minister of West Bengal since 2011, the first woman to hold the office. She founded the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC or TMC) party in 1998 after separating from the Indian National Congress, and became its chairwoman. She is often referred to as Didi (meaning elder sister in Bengali) by her followers and as Pishi (meaning paternal aunt in Bengali) by many of her critics.
Banerjee previously served twice as Minister of Railways, the first woman to do so. She is also the first female Minister of Coal, and Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Youth Affairs, Sports, Women and Child Development in the cabinet of the Indian government. She rose to prominence after opposing the erstwhile land acquisition policies for industrialisation of the Communist government in West Bengal for Special Economic Zones at the cost of agriculturalists and farmers at Singur. In 2011 Banerjee pulled off a landslide victory for the AITC alliance in West Bengal, defeating the 34-year-old Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government, the world’s longest-serving democratically elected communist government, in the process.
Early life and education
Banerjee was born in Kolkata (formerly called Calcutta), West Bengal, to a Bengali Hindu family. Her parents were Promileswar Banerjee and Gayetri Devi. Banerjee’s father, Promileswar died due to lack of medical treatment, when she was 17. She identifies herself as a Hindu.
In 1970, Banerjee completed the higher secondary board examination from Deshbandhu Sishu Sikshalay. d her master’s degree in Islamic history from the University of Calcutta. This was followed by a degree in Education from Shri Shikshayatan College and a law degree from Jogesh Chandra Chaudhuri Law College, Kolkata. She also received an honorary doctorate from the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, Bhubaneswar. She was also honoured with a Doctorate of Literature (D.Litt.) degree by Calcutta University.
Banerjee became involved with politics when she was only 15. While studying at the Jogamaya Devi College, she established Chhatra Parishad Unions, the student wing of the Congress (I) Party, defeating the All India Democratic Students Organisation affiliated with the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist). She continued in the Congress (I) Party in West Bengal, serving in a variety of positions within the party and in other local political organisations.
Early political career, 1984–2011
Political career with Congress
Banerjee began her political career in the Congress party as a young woman in the 1970s. In 1975 she gained attention in the press media when she danced on the car of socialist activist and politician Jayaprakash Narayan as a protest against him. She quickly rose in the ranks of the local Congress group and remained the general secretary of Mahila Congress (Indira), West Bengal, from 1976 to 1980. In the 1984 general election, Banerjee became one of India’s youngest parliamentarians ever, defeating veteran Communist politician Somnath Chatterjee, to win the Jadavpur parliamentary Constituency in West Bengal. She also became the general secretary of the Indian Youth Congress in 1984. She lost her seat to Malini Bhattacharya of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the 1989 general elections in an anti-Congress wave. She was re-elected in the 1991 general elections, having settled into the Calcutta South constituency. She retained the Kolkata South seat in the 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009 general elections.
Banerjee was appointed the Union Minister of State for Human Resources Development, Youth Affairs and Sports, and Women and Child Development in 1991 by prime minister P. V. Narasimha Rao. As the sports minister, she announced that she would resign and protested in a rally at the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata, against the Government’s indifference towards her proposal to improve sports in the country. She was discharged of her portfolios in 1993. In April 1996, she alleged that Congress was behaving as a stooge of the CPI-M in West Bengal. She claimed that she was the lone voice of reason and wanted a “clean Congress”.
Founding Trinamool Congress
In 1997, due to difference in political views with the then West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee president Somendra Nath Mitra, Banerjee left the Congress Party in West Bengal and became one of the founding members of the All India Trinamool Congress, along with Mukul Roy. It quickly became the primary opposition party to the long-standing Communist government in the state. On 11 December 1998, she controversially held a Samajwadi Party MP, Daroga Prasad Saroj, by the collar and dragged him out of the well of the Lok Sabha to prevent him from protesting against the Women’s Reservation Bill.
Chief Minister of West Bengal
First term, 2011–16
In 2011, the All India Trinamool Congress along with SUCI and the INC won the West Bengal legislative assembly election against the incumbent Left Alliance by securing 227 seats. TMC won 184 seats with the INC winning 42 seats and the SUCI secured one seat. This marked the end of the longest ruling democratically elected Communist party in the world.
Banerjee was sworn in as chief minister of West Bengal on 20 May 2011. As the first female chief minister of West Bengal, one of her first decisions was to return 400 acres of land to Singur farmers. “The cabinet has decided to return 400 acres to unwilling farmers in Singur,” the chief minister said. “I have instructed the department to prepare the papers for this. If Tata-babu (Ratan Tata) wants, he can set up his factory on the remaining 600 acres, otherwise we will see how to go about it.”
She has also been credited for setting up of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration.
She began various reforms in the education and health sectors. Some of the reforms in the education sector included the release of teachers’ monthly pay on the first of every month and quicker pensions for retiring teachers. In the health sector Banerjee promised: “A three-phase developmental system will be taken up to improve the health infrastructure and service.” On 30 April 2015, a representative of UNICEF India congratulated the government for making Nadia the first Open Defecation Free district in the country. In a statement on 17 October 2012, Banerjee attributed the increasing incidence of rape in the country to “more free interaction between men and women”. She said that “Earlier if men and women would hold hands, they would get caught by parents and reprimanded but now everything is so open. It’s like an open market with open options.” She was criticised in the national media for these statements.
She was also instrumental in the rollback of the petrol price hikes and the suspension of FDI in the retail sector until a consensus is evolved. In a bid to improve the law and enforcement situation in West Bengal, police commissionerates were created at Howrah, Barrackpore, Durgapur-Asansol and Bidhannagar. The total area of Kolkata Municipal Corporation has been brought under the control of the Kolkata Police.
Banerjee had shown a keen interest in making the public aware of the state’s history and culture. She named several stations of the Kolkata Metro after freedom fighters, and plans on naming upcoming stations after religious leaders, poets, singers and the like. Mamata Banerjee has been criticised for starting controversial stipends to imams (Iman Bhatta) which was ruled unconstitutional by Calcutta High Court.
On 16 February 2012, Bill Gates, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, sent a letter to the West Bengal government praising Banerjee and her administration for achieving a full year without any reported cases of polio. The letter said this was not only a milestone for India but also for the whole world.
In June 2012, she launched a Facebook page to rally and gather public support for A.P.J Abdul Kalam, her party’s choice for the presidential elections. After he refused to stand for the second time, she supported Pranab Mukherjee for the post, after a long tussle over the issue, commenting she was personally a “great fan” of Mukherjee and wishing that he “grows from strength to strength”.
She is against calling bandhs (work stoppage) although actively supported them when she was in opposition.
Her tenure was also heavily marred by the Saradha Scam – a financial embezzlement which led to the imprisonment of Madan Mitra – a former minister in her cabinet, Kunal Ghosh-a party MP, and rigorous grilling of several party men holding important posts.
Second term, 2016–present
2016 West Bengal Legislative Assembly election was held for 294 seats (out of 295 seats) of the Vidhan Sabha in the state of West Bengal in India. All India Trinamool Congress won the elections with a landslide two-thirds majority under Mamata Banerjee winning 211 seats out of total 293, who has been elected as Chief Minister West Bengal for the second term. All India Trinamool Congress won with an enhanced majority contesting alone and became the first ruling party to win without an ally since 1962 in West Bengal.
Personal life and recognitions
Throughout her political life, Banerjee has maintained a publicly austere lifestyle, dressing in simple traditional Bengali clothes and avoiding luxuries. In an interview in April 2019, Prime minister Narendra Modi claimed that despite their political differences, Banerjee sends her own selected kurtas and sweets to him every year.
In 2012, Time magazine named her as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Bloomberg Markets magazine listed her among the 50 most influential people in the world of finance in September 2012. In 2018, she was conferred the Skoch Chief Minister of the Year Award.