Mamata Banerjee ; born 5 January 1955) is the 11th and current Chief Minister of West Bengal. She is the first woman to hold the office. Banerjee founded the party All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC or TMC) in 1997 and became its chairperson, after separating from the Indian National Congress. She is usually called "Didi" (meaning elder sister). In 2011 Banerjee pulled off a landslide victory for the TMC Congress alliance in West Bengal by defeating the world's longest-serving democratically-elected communist government, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government, bringing to an end 34 years of Left Front rule in the state. Banerjee previously served as a Minister of Railways twice and is also the first women Railway Minister of India, Minister of Coal, and Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Department of Youth Affairs and Sports and Women and Child Development in the cabinet of the Indian government. She opposed forceful land acquisition for industrialisation by the then communist government in West Bengal for Special Economic Zones at the cost of agriculturalists and farmers.
In 2012, the Time magazine named her one of the "100 Most influential People in the World".
In September,2012 Bloomberg Markets magazine listed her among the 50 most influential people in the world of finance.
Banerjee was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), West Bengal in a Bengali family to Promileswar Banerjee and Gayetri Devi. She grew up in a lower middle class family, and her father died when she was young. Banerjee became involved with politics while still in school, joining the Congress (I) Party in West Bengal and serving in a variety of positions within the party and in other local political organisations. As a young woman in the 1970s, she quickly rose in the ranks[clarification needed] to become the general secretary of the state Mahila Congress (1976–80). She was a college student in the mid-1970s.
Banerjee graduated with an honours degree in History from the Jogamaya Devi College, an undergraduate women's college in southern Kolkata. Later she earned a master's degree in Islamic History from the University of Calcutta. This was followed by a degree in education from the Shri Shikshayatan College. She also earned a law degree from the Jogesh Chandra Chaudhuri Law College, Kolkata.
Throughout her political life Banerjee has maintained an austere lifestyle, always dressing in simple traditional Bengali cotton sarees called 'tant', while wearing none of cosmetics or jewellery and always has a cotton bag slung on her shoulder. She has remained single throughout her life
Banerjee started her political career in the Congress party, and as a young woman in the 1970s, she quickly rose in the ranks of the local Congress group, and remained the General Secretary of Mahila Congress (I), West Bengal, from 1976 to 1980. In the 1984 general election, Banerjee became one of India's youngest parliamentarians ever, beating veteran Communist politician Somnath Chatterjee, from the Jadavpur parliamentary Constituency in West Bengal. She also became the General-Secretary of the Indian Youth Congress. Losing her seat in 1989 in an anti-Congress wave, she was back in 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.
In the Rao government formed in 1991, Mamata Banerjee was made the Union Minister of State for Human Resources Development, Youth Affairs and Sports, and Women and Child Development. As the sports minister, she announced that she would resign, and protested in a rally at the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata, against 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".
In 1997, Mamata Banerjee left the Congress Party in West Bengal and established the All India Trinamool Congress. It quickly became the primary opposition party to the long-standing Communist government in the state.[why?] 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.
In 1999, she joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and was allocated the Railways Ministry
In 2002, Mamata Banerjee presented her first Railway Budget. In it she fulfilled many of her promises to her home state West Bengal. She introduced a new biweekly New Delhi-Sealdah Rajdhani Express train and four express trains connecting various parts of West Bengal, namely the Howrah-Purulia Rupasi Bangla Express, Sealdah-New Jalpaiguri Express, Shalimar-Bankura Arannyak Express and the Sealdah-Amritsar Superfast Express (weekly). She also increased the frequency of the Pune-Howrah Azad Hind Express and extension of at least three express train services. Work on the Digha-Howrah Express service was also hastened during her brief tenure.
She also focused on developing tourism, enabling the Darjeeling-Himalayan section with two additional locomotives and proposing the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited. She also commented that India should play a pivotal role in the Trans-Asian Railway and that rail links between Bangladesh and Nepal would be reintroduced. In all, she introduced 19 new trains for the 2000–2001 fiscal year.
In 2000, she and Ajit Kumar Panja resigned from the cabinet to protest the hike in petroleum prices, and then withdrew their resignations without any reason
In early 2001, after the Tehelka expose, Banerjee walked out of the NDA cabinet and allied with the Congress Party for West Bengal's 2001 elections, in protest of the corruption charges levelled by Tehelka.com against senior ministers of the Government
She returned to the NDA government in January 2004, and held the Coal and Mines portfolio till the Indian general election of 20 May 2004, in which she was the only Trinamool Congress member to win a Parliament seat from West Bengal.
On 20 October 2005, she protested against the forceful land acquisition and the atrocities[clarification needed] on local farmers in the name of industrial development policy of the Buddhadev Bhattacharya government in West Bengal. Benny Santoso, CEO of the Indonesia-based Salim Group had pledged a large investment to West Bengal, and the West Bengal government had given him farmland in Howrah, sparking protest. In soaking rain, Banerjee and other Trinamool Congress members stood in front of the Taj Hotel where Santoso had arrived, shut out by the police. Later, she and her supporters followed Santoso's convoy. A planned "black flag" protest was avoided, when the government had Santoso arrive three hours ahead of schedule.
Mamata Banerjee suffered further setbacks in 2005, when her party lost control of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the sitting mayor defected from her party. In 2006, the Trinamool Congress was defeated in West Bengal's Assembly Elections, losing more than half of its sitting members.
On 4 August 2006, Banerjee hurled her resignation papers at the deputy speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal in Lok Sabha. The provocation was the speaker (Somnath Catterjee)'s rejection of her adjournment motion on illegal infiltration by Bangladeshis in West Bengal. The motion was turned down by the speaker on the ground that it was not in the proper format.
In November 2006, Banerjee was forcibly stopped on her way to Singur for a rally against a proposed Tata Motors car project. Mamata reached the West Bengal assembly and protested at the venue. She addressed a press conference at the assembly and announced a 12-hour shutdown by her party on Friday. The Trinamul Congress MLAs protested by damaging furniture and microphones in the West Bengal Assembly. A major strike was called on 14 December 2006.
The Nandigram violence was an incident in Nandigram, West Bengal where, on the orders of the Left Front government, more than 4,000 heavily-armed police stormed the rural area in the district of Purba Medinipur with the aim of stamping out protests against the West Bengal government’s plans to expropriate 10,000 acres (40 km2) of land for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be developed by the Indonesian-based Salim Group. The police shot dead at least 14 villagers and wounded 70 more.
The SEZ controversy started when the government of West Bengal decided that the Salim Group of Indonesia would set up a chemical hub under the SEZ policy at Nandigram. The villagers took over the administration of the area, and all the roads to the villages were cut off. A front-page story in the Kolkata newspaper, The Telegraph, on 4 January 2007 was headlined, "False alarm sparks clash". According to the newspaper that village council meeting at which the alleged land seizure was to be announced was actually a meeting to declare Nandigram a "clean village", that is, a village in which all the households had access to toilet facilities. The administration was directed to break the Maoist-backed Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee's (BUPC) resistance at Nandigram and a massive operation with at least 3,000 policemen along with armed cadre of the Marxist ruling party was launched on 14 March 2007. However, prior information of the impending action had leaked out to the BUPC who amassed a crowd of roughly 2,000 villagers at the entry points into Nandigram with women and children forming the front ranks. In the resulting mayhem, at least 14 people were killed. Many people of the lower classes were made homeless due to this political carnage. A large number of intellectuals protested on the streets and this incident gave birth of a new hope for movement to ouster the left from government headed by the CPI(M)[clarification needed]. Mamata Banerjee wrote letters to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil to stop the violence promoted by CPI(M) in Nandigram. Agitation in Nandigram subsided, after the state government shelved the proposed chemical hub project.
In 2009, Mamata Banerjee became the railway minister for the second time. Her focus was again on West Bengal. She neglected her duties as a railway minister to concentrate on electioneering in West Bengal.
She led Indian Railways to introduce a number of non-stop Duronto Express trains connecting large cities besides a number of other passenger trains,including women-only trains. The Anantnag-Qadigund railway line of the Kashmir railway that has been in the making since 1994was inaugurated during her tenure. She also declared the 25-km long line-1 of Kolkata Metro as an independent Zone of the Indian Railwaysfor which she was criticised.
Reuters reported that "Her two-year record as railway minister has been heavily criticized for running the network into more debt to pay for populist measures such as more passenger trains." The Indian Railways became loss-making in her two-year tenure. Even before stepping down as railway minister to become the Chief Minister of West Bengal, she declared that she would be able to handle both the portfolios together.Her nominee Dinesh Trivedi from her party succeeded her as railway minister.
Banerjee was sworn in as Chief Minister of West Bengal on 20 May 2011. As the first woman 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 Tatababu wants, he can set up his factory on the remaining 600 acres, otherwise we will see how to go about it," she added.
She has also been credited to solving the longstanding "Gorkhaland Problem"[clarification needed] by setting up the Gorkhaland Autonomous Council.
She has started various reforms in education and health sectors. Some of the reforms in the education sectors include release of the monthly pay of the teachers on the first of every month and quicker pensions for retiring teachers. In health sector "A three-phase developmental system will be taken up to improve the heath infrastructure and service,” Mamata Banerjee said.
In fact she was instrumental in the rollback of the petrol price hikes and the suspension of FDI in Retail Sector until a consensus is evolved. In a bid of 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 Kolkata Police.
Even before assuming the role of Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee had shown keen interest in making the public aware of the state's history and culture. She had named several stations of the Kolkata Metro after freedom fighters, and plans on naming upcoming stations after religious leaders, poets, singers and the like. One of her unprecedented moves as Chief Minister has been to arrange for the playing of Rabindra Sangeet at traffic signals in Kolkata.
On 16 February 2012, Bill Gates, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, sent a letter to the West Bengal government praising Mamata 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.
Mamata Banerjee's Tenure as railway minister is now being questioned as most of the big-ticket announcements made by her last year when she was the railway minister, have seen little or no progress 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.
Mamata didi gave her party support to Pranab Mukherjee for the post of President of India after a long drama over the issue,She also said" she was personally a "great fan" of Mukherjee and wished he grows from strength to strength".She is against calling bandhs but she had called many of them when she was in opposition. Mamata Banerjee took on congress for fuel price hike and other controversial decisions by starting her agitation in Jantar Mantar on 1, October, 2012. In her 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,“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. Her opinion of the rapes reported from such cities as New Delhi, Chennai, and Kolkata is that they remain political tools by her opposition - primarily the CPI and CPI-M - and that the truth of these events are exaggerated. However, Mamata is ignorant of the condition in which girls and women live in villages in West Bengal as well as nationwide. These females do not fear rape and assault as a possibility but as an inevitability that comes as any time. As a woman in power, her position in response to recently reported and publicized instances of rape and sexual assault of harassment remain extremely apathetic and ineffective
On 14 March 2012, Dinesh Trivedi announced the annual rail budget 2012 that included an all over hike in passenger fares, ranging from 2 paise to 30 paise per kilometre for reasons of safety, along with network expansion and associated modernisations. The rail fare had not been hiked for nearly a decadeputting Indian Railways in ICU as far as its financial viability was concerned. The proposed fare hike would have added 4200 crores to railways income, which while paltry compared to its expenses, would still have saved railways from becoming bankrupt. The budget received enthusiastic support from a wide cross section of society including the general public,industry groupsand all five Rail Unions. However, the fare hike proposal in the budget was fiercely opposed by Mamata Banerjee. Although Trivedi initially tried to defend the budget by pointing out that it was necessary for making Indian Railways stronger, Mamata Banerjee forced him to resign as Railway Minister on 18 March 2012. On hearing of the incident, noted Indian woman entrepreneur and Chairman & MD of Biocon, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw tweeted that "Mamta is a dangerous, populist demagogue: economically illiterate but politically astute – deadly combo!". She added that "Mamta is a sad reflection on just how feudal our society and culture is – talk of human rights!" and "Mamata is behaving like a mad despot. Political leadership is in deficit with such irrational behaviour that can only harm the poor." Industrialist Rahul Bajaj opined that ""It was a very bold budget and he is a brave man to take such a tough call of increasing fares after ten years. I would have wished to see him around as the Railways Minister. However, it is very unfortunate that his own party is now distancing him." Veteran journalist, Vivian Fernandes reported that, "It is getting clearer by the day that Mamata Banerjee's poribortan is not a change for the better. Like the communists, she can only tear, not build." Trinamool MP Kabir Suman came out in open support for Trivedi and expressed his solidarity with him, saying “My respects for the Chief Minister and other party leaders notwithstanding, I must say that it defies parliamentary decorum to get a Railway Minister removed simply because he has acted in the country’s interest
Ambikesh Mahapatra, a professor of Jadavpur University was assaulted, then arrested and forced to spend a night in police custody for allegedly circulating 'defamatory' cartoons of Mamata Banerjee. While Prof. Mahapatra, as the victim of the assault was forced to spend a night in police station, his attackers – Amit Sardar, Arup Mukherjee, Sheikh Mustafa and Nishikanta Gharai – allegedly Trinamool Congress activists of the New Garia area on the southern fringes of Kolkata, were arrested on the next day and they were released on bail after being produced before the court. Mamata Banerjee defended the professor's arrest
Ten days after she announced that the salaries of teachers of State schools would be paid by the first of every month, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Friday that the same would hold true for teaching and non-teaching staff of all government-aided colleges.
“The salaries of all staff — teaching and non-teaching — of government-aided colleges will be disbursed on the first of every month,” she said here. An ad hoc pension would be released to retired employees, subject to the finalisation of their actual pension, he said.
Ms. Banerjee said the authorities concerned were asked to ensure that provisional pensions were paid to teachers of the State-run schools from within a month after their retirement until a final settlement was made.
Ms. Banerjee said the State government was working towards bringing within the ambit of school education para-teachers and those engaged in Sishu Shiksha Kendras and Madhyamik Shiksha Kendras, which are now under the Panchayat Department.
“It is a move to bring all various systems under a single umbrella for greater co-ordination…The situation so far in the education system is scandalous.” It would take three years to streamline it, she said.
“Para-teachers and those from the different primary teachers training institutes will gradually be accommodated in the school education system if found eligible,” she said.
The woman with a fiery voice belying her short frame came, spoke and conquered the Kolkata crowd in the manner of someone who is about to become the fulcrum of power in the world's largest democracy.
She railed against the Marxist Left Front, which has ruled West Bengal, one of India's most populous and politically important states, since 1977. She decried economic stagnation, slammed corruption and accused the world's longest-serving democratically-elected communist government of perpetrating political violence.
Exit polls show the 56-year-old Banerjee will win a landslide vote when ballots are counted on Friday to become the next leader of this state of 90 million, a population equivalent to Germany. As the latest powerbroker to emerge in India's fractured politics, she left no doubt about what she stood against at the rally. But what does she stand for?
"That's very difficult to say," said Manish Gupta in the humid, oven-like heat of this middle-class university district in Kolkata, a communist bastion. The former senior civil servant, now a leading light in Banerjee's inner circle, paused near where his leader was addressing the crowd. He then spoke into an adviser's ear.
"She is more of a nationalist," he said, a little surer of himself.
He paused again, thinking of a new phrase.
"A democratic socialist," he added, signalling the conversation had ended.
If it all seemed rather vague, it was probably meant to. Asked what she stood for, Banerjee told Reuters in a telephone interview she represented "good governance, impartiality and a return to normalcy".
Her manifesto is sparse, but includes introducing cruises on the Ganges River "in line with River Thames of London" and converting West Bengal's tea-growing Darjeeling district into the "Switzerland of the East".
But more than dreamy promises, it is her trademark sandals, simple white sari and humble persona that have struck a chord with millions here in the "City of Joy" -- the world's eighth-biggest metropolis, larger than Los Angeles or London.
The question for many is where will this maverick populist fit in a rapidly modernizing India.
A visit to her neighbourhood helps explain her populist appeal. Unmarried, she still lives with her mother in a small bungalow with a corrugated iron roof. The stench from a nearby stream of sewage can make unaccustomed visitors feel like retching. A crematorium lies nearby. This district, Kalighat, is also home to Mother Teresa's first hospice.
Banerjee worships near her house at a famous temple to Kali, the Hindu goddess of death often associated with sexuality, violence and even motherly love and who has become something of a feminist icon.
The woman affectionately known as "Didi", or Big Sister, and born to a poor teacher's family, rose to become the first person capable of uniting an opposition against 34 years of communist rule in West Bengal and of leading a party, the Trinamool Congress, that could make or break Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's reform agenda.
After seven consecutive election wins, the communists have stumbled, mainly due to a badly-implemented plan to seize farming land for industry to help the state's moribund economy and provide needed manufacturing jobs. Voters saw them as stuck in a Cold War time warp and their exasperation over red tape and Marxist sloganeering has grown.
Her campaign against the communists has come to symbolize the political battles that define India today - conflicts over appropriating land for industry and infrastructure, the power of regional charismatic leaders, a growing disgust with corruption, and the push for economic reform in a country of 1.2 billion people that often resists change.
Banerjee's tale is also one of how a single woman from a humble background can succeed in this traditional society. She joins other regional leaders in India who have emerged with the decline in popularity of national parties seen as out of touch. Their populist agenda has become more influential at the centre, where national coalitions must accommodate their views as they forge India's path in a global economy.
Statues of Lenin and Marx stand in the main park in Kolkata, albeit rather worn by rain and humidity, and the road outside the U.S. consulate is named Ho Chi Minh. Many bookstores stock the kind of Marxist literature that seems a throwback to the 1970s counter-culture.
But those are among the few signs of a Communist society in West Bengal. The wealthy still have their traditional gentleman's clubs and gated suburban communities. The poor complain of undrinkable water and monsoon floods of sewage that bring plagues of dengue-carrying mosquitoes.
"At night, you cannot survive here for 10 minutes without a mosquito net," said Kulwant Singh, a taxi car owner as he sat near a rubbish-filled pond in south Kolkata. "Fill up a bottle of water and it will turn yellow. This is 34 years of lost promises."
Even before the state election, criticism like Singh's had begun to dent the Left Front's political fortress. Banerjee won 19 parliamentary seats in the 2009 general election, to become the biggest party in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition government -- huge clout given the government has a parliamentary majority of just 18.
A former activist of the youth Congress party, Banerjee first made headlines when she was sent by the party to battle one of the communists' safest seats in Kolkata in 1984. Against the odds, she won.
She then had to confront two roadblocks -- traditional Congress stalwarts scared of any threat to the Nehru-Gandhi family dynasty who tried to marginalise her, and Congress's attempts to reach out to the communists as a national coalition partner.
One day in 1998 she held a meeting for disaffected Congress activists next door to a Congress party conference to protest its flirtation with the communists, giving birth to Trinamool (grassroots) Congress.
Some say there is a Gandhian simplicity about her," said Derek O'Brien, a quiz show host and now vice-president of Trinamool Congress.
She eats simple rice dishes twice a day and declines to live in a plush house in New Delhi that has been reserved for her as railways minister. "Look at our political stars in India. They have all had a mentor. But she has had no silver spoon," said O'Brien, descended from an Anglo-Indian family, a legacy of British rule.
But neither is Banerjee so rustic. She owns a Samsung computer tablet and an iPod. She sends so many texts that party workers joke that SMS stands for Short Mamata Services.
She has a short temper, too, once grabbing an MP by his collar and marching him out of parliament. On another occasion, she took her shawl, made it into a noose and threatened to hang herself to protest Congress's deals with the Communists.
When Banerjee speaks, it is always imbued with anger at the leftists. She was hospitalized for three months after her skull was fractured when she was punched to the ground by a communist cadre in the 1990s.
"Travel around West Bengal," she told Reuters, "and you will see their brutality."
The decline in popularity of the communists can be traced back to political violence against people such as 48-year-old farmer Nepal Kole, who lives in one of the cluster of villages around Singur, an hour's drive from Kolkata.
Eight months ago, he was walking home along one of the irrigation ditches that cross the rich farmland here. A group of communist cadres set upon him, kicking him repeatedly as he writhed on the ground. After two months in hospital, he still has a limp and around his frail form he wears a string of leaf roots, a traditional Ayurvedic therapy.
His sin? Opposing a Left front plan to set up a car factory on land in his village.
"I was beaten black and blue," said the former member of the Communist Party India-Marxist (CPI-M), the main group in the Left Front coalition. "That is what I got for 32 years of supporting the communists."
His case highlighted how the heavy-handed push for industrialisation in the state has pitted the Left Front against its once fervent grassroots supporters, the farmers.
The protests were a reminder of the obstacles India faces in industrializing and competing with the likes of China as villagers, two-thirds of its 1.2 billion population, demand to be heard. The state of India's farmers promises to be one of the biggest issues for the second term of the Congress Party-led coalition, and the communists met their match in Singur.
In 2007, Tata Motors, a unit of Indian conglomerate Tata group, made a deal with the Communist government to start rolling out thousands of Nanos -- billed as the world's cheapest car -- from a new state-of-the-art factory complex in Singur. Land was seized with little compensation and a factory wall suddenly went up, cutting farmers land in two and separating them from key irrigation pumps.
The Nano itself had become a nationalist symbol and a prestigious industrial project. One newspaper compared its launch to walking on the moon.
But when the factory wall went up, some farmers committed suicide, others emigrated to the city for jobs. Many more stayed to fight and Banerjee seized on it. Soon roadblocks and street protests forced the Communists to retreat. The factory was never set up and the project moved to Gujarat in 2008.
West Bengal had not only lost a factory and much needed jobs, but also any reputation for governance.