Banerjee is now a powerful leader, equally unpredictable.
Nearly three decades ago, Dipten Dey, my classmate from Delhi’s Raisina Bengali School, worked as a personal assistant of Mamata Banerjee. She was a rising politician, a handful of pockmarked Communist leaders in Kolkata described her as “a troublesome youngster who had to listen but ignored”. That did not bother Banerjee. Dey told me - over several tea sessions at his office in Delhi - how Banerjee was passionate about West Bengal.
Eventually, it was in 2011 Banerjee finally pushed (read kicked) the not-so-powerful Communists out of Bengal and took charge of Bengal as the state’s CM. She could not be ignored, and she wasn't a youngster, the New York Times called her a 5-foot-tall dynamo in flip-flops.
Banerjee is now a powerful leader, equally unpredictable. No one knows what she has on her mind when she meets ministers of her party, members and even friends. At a function last year, she - unlike other Indian politicians who routinely hobnob with dubious characters - took on the land mafia and told her party members that she would fire them if they were caught taking cash in return of favours.
India’s political cognoscenti feel she is very, very populist and, in some ways, more leftist than the Communists she replaced. But that she is totally in love with West Bengal, a state more populous than Germany, is evident. Understanding her mind and works is a herculean task, she has the highest honours for any regional Indian politician. Ever since she swept into power, Banerjee has herself penned a number of books to explain her point of view, she has often sung at public functions and even drawn canvasses for sale to corporates. She loves to tell her own story.
But Shutapa Paul, a seasoned journalist who was once my colleague at India Today, has tracked Banerjee for almost a decade now. Paul’s maiden book - in many ways - is an insider’s tale about a leader who understands the pulse of her state, and also the nation, as a seasoned physician. The book, fluently written, explains why Banerjee does not support anti-people decisions and is ready to take hard decisions even if it flies against the face of the party, Trinamool Congress. The ruling BJP-led NDA government at the Centre has tried hard to upstage her but failed on all counts because of opposition from her massive followers, who often call her Didi that translates into an elder sister. Paul notes in her book how the hopeful lot in West Bengal has its eyes on the plum seat in the Indian Capital, the chair of the Prime Minister and is somewhat convinced that Banerjee - never mind her volcanic temper, off-the-wall statements - could one day be India’s PM.
Didi: The Untold Mamata Banerjee explains why Mamata is Mamata and there will be no one like her in years to come in West Bengal. Its evident from her writing that Paul had some inroads at Nabanna, the new Blue and White building that is home to the CM close to the expansive Ganges, and that she also spent some significant time at Banerjee’s residence at Kalighat, close to Kolkata’s ancient temple and Nirmal Hriday, the first home in India set up by Mother Teresa of Missionaries of Charity. The book says a lot of things about Banerjee, not everything. This is good news for readers, there will always be an occasion for the writer to pen an update. After all, there are high chances the Trinamool will sweep power again in the state elections.
In a short time, the book has got some very good tractions from friends and foes of Banerjee. I am told people in Kolkata are buying it off the shelves like cakes from Nahoum, the city’s famous Jewish bakery, among them are a handful of Communists still wondering who wonder what made Bengal kick out the Left Front and instal Banerjee in power.
For writers, its music to ears.