International Women’s Day Book Pick: Mamata Banerjee as ‘Didi’: A gutsy political biography of West Bengal CM

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New Delhi | Published: March 8, 2019 2:05:30 PM

According to the book, Mamata Banerjee demonstrated her fearlessness several times, most notably so when she came face to face with a man who held a gun to shoot her.

According to the book, Mamata Banerjee demonstrated her fearlessness several times, most notably so when she came face to face with a man who held a gun to shoot her.

Love to read political biographies that are gripping? International Women’s Day is a good day to get started if you have a passion for reading a gutsy political biography. Journalist-turned-author Shutapa Pal’s biography of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee titled, ‘Didi: The Untold Mamata Banerjee’ reveals candid insights about the Trinamool Congress supremo. The biography positions Mamata Banerjee as a national leader with a dynamic role to play in the upcoming 2019 parliamentary elections. While this book focuses mainly on her strengths and shields her from many controversies that made headlines, the book also tells us, “How did Mamata become ‘Didi’?” and how she broke the glass ceiling in Indian politics.

For instance, the TMC supremo reveals that she loves to paint, is religious by nature and stays fit by walking 10 kms on the treadmill but she just cannot turn down eating chocolates,muri and chira. These little nuggets of information in the book are just a tip of the iceberg to get started reading on International Women’s Day.

Politics, historically, has been predominantly a man’s world in India and world over. This is where the rise of Mamata Banerjee becomes a political case study of sorts and definitely worth reading on a day like International Women’s Day. She took in her stride the ground-level hardships that an ordinary Indian woman has to deal with and transformed each hurdle with resilience coupled with a problem-solving approach.

The narrative offers readers with a close glimpse of the hard, socio-economic inequalities that a young Mamata Banerjee had to tackle at the beginning of her political life.

The situations she confronted head-on, the political rivalries that sprung up later and the tensions and the misunderstandings that are an inevitable part of political speculations and successes.

For instance, the book points out that the young, fiery Mamata was not only a worry for the CPM but her rapport with Rajiv Gandhi made many veteran leaders in the Congress party wary of her, though none dared to voice any opposition. That Rajiv Gandhi encouraged her and was almost a mentor, father-like figure to her caused many ripples within the Congress party, which probably explains why she was given the cold shoulder by stalwarts in the party after his death.

The dynamics of Mamata Banerjee’s personal relationships and political conflicts with stalwarts in the Congress party including former President Pranab Mukherjee and Kesri are deftly explored with clear instances and context.

Another instance: Mamata Banerjee reached out to Sonia Gandhi, urging her to take charge of the Congress party. In this book, it is mentioned that Sonia Gandhi’s response to Mamata was, “I cannot. I am a foreigner. Not everyone will accept me.”

For those who watch Indian politics closely, these details of several such candid interactions and conflicts make interesting reading. The controversies surrounding the TMC supremo such as those related to Nandigram, Singur and Saradha Chit Funds, to mention a few, are also explained in the book.

One of Mamata Banerjee’s dramatic statements when confronted with tough questions, reads as, “I cannot buy doctors at a sweet shop, can I?” Instances like this clinch a reader’s attention to the dynamic persona of the West Bengal Chief Minister, as also the dichotomy that presents itself in the political narrative.

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The book further addresses her tenure on several fronts such as:

1. How does Mamata Banerjee placate West Bengal’s ambitious youth while sticking to her pro-farmer policy? This is a pertinent question, given the dynamics of trade unionism in the state. Also, as the book itself quotes a TMC leader who asks a relevant question, “One lakh jobs are available in the jute industry. But where is the skilled labour?”

2. How has she wooed businesses to invest in the state?

3. What steps have been taken to take the state’s economy and employment scenario to the next well?

Published by Penguin India, this is a compelling and candid biography to read on International Women’s Day. The book presents the rise of an ordinary Indian woman as a leader of the masses. As the author of the book gently points out, what makes her a voice that represents the masses is marked by her real life struggles that ordinary people can relate to as well as her impulsive outbursts, while challenging the existing social norms and breaking through layered political hierarchies and glass barriers.

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According to the book, Mamata Banerjee demonstrated her fearlessness several times, most notably so when she came face to face with a man who held a gun to shoot her. Looking him in the eye without flinching even once, Mamata Banerjee is known to have displayed the rarest kind of courage, challenging the person to go ahead. The rest is history. This is the kind of political biography that you are bound to enjoy reading on International Women’s Day and beyond.

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