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The power behind ‘Didi’: Her women’s brigade

Mamata BanerjeeBy Sirshendu Panth,

Kolkata : Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee is not only West Bengal’s first woman Chief Minister and perhaps the most feisty woman politician in the country today but she also has her own women’s brigade – an eclectic mix who swear by their leader.

While some of them are glamorous, having joined politics from the corporate or the entertainment world, others are consummate street fighters – much like what Banerjee was (and could still be, going by recent events) for most part of her public career.

There’s Mahua Moitra, glamorous, urbane, sophisticated and combative. She is a graduate in economics and mathematics from Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts. She left her cushy job as vice president of JP Morgan in the UK and joined politics in September 2008, when Rahul Gandhi drafted her in the Youth Congress as a state coordinator for his Aam Aadmi Ka Sipahi project.

But quickly sensing the political mood of the state, Moitra switched over to the Trinamool Congress two years later and is now an MLA from Karimpur in Nadia district.

She is a familiar face in television debates, particularly on the national channels, where her gift of the gab, persuasive reasoning and good command over English come in handy for the Trinamool Congress in arguing the party line.

BJP leader and union minister Babul Supriyo got a taste of Moitra’s combative nature when she filed a police complaint against the singer-politician for allegedly insulting her by twice asking “Mahua are you on Mahua” (Mahua are you inebriated) during a television debate.

Then, there’s Nayna Bandopadhyay (nee Nayna Das). A popular actress in Bengali films and television serials in the 1980s and 1990s, she had a large following among screen buffs.

Married to Sudip Bandopadhyay, the Trinamool Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, Nayna represents the Chowringhee constituency, which she won in a by-poll in 2013 and repeated her success three years later. Previously a single-term MLA from another city constituency, Bowbzar, she vacated the seat for her husband in 2006.

Nayna’s equations with Mamata Banerjee have fluctuated with her husband’s political allegiance.

Soon after becoming an MLA in 2001, Nayna had got access to Banerjee’s inner circle, where her husband had a coveted place. Nayna had come so close to Banerjee that she was known to even give grooming tips to her leader.

However, all that changed when her husband quit the party and contested the Lok Sabha election as an independent backed by the Congress in 2004. Nayna then turned critical of Banerjee, and even gave interviews castigating her.

The script again reversed as Sudip Bandopadhyay returned to the Trinamool Congress after some time.

As for Sonali Guha, for years she has been the alter ego and constant companion of her “didi” (elder sister, as Banerjee is affectionately called).

A four-time legislator from Satgachia, a seat once held by the legendary Jyoti Basu, Guha is known for her acerbic tongue and tempestuous nature, which has landed her in controversy time and again. She once locked a police station from outside after abusing the officers, and on another occasion was accused of manhandling and threatening residents of an apartment in Howrah. During the latter incident, Guha was the assembly Deputy Speaker, a post she held from 2011-16. During the 2016 assembly election, the Election Commission ordered an FIR against her for intimidating voters.

It was her antics that perhaps prompted Mamata against giving her the Deputy Speakers’s post in 2016.

But then, Guha has been a disciplined soldier of the party through the various crests and troughs of her political life. She is known for her hard work, organisational ability and popularity among the rank and file.

There is also Dola Sen, a one-time Maoist and militant trade unionist who joined Banerjee during the peasant movements in Singur and Nandigram in the twilight years of the Left Front government and is now a Rajya Sabha MP.

Culturally-oriented and well read, she is much-loved by Banerjee for her rendition of mass people-oriented songs during sit-ins and demonstrations — like the one which ended on Tuesday.

Chandrima Bhattacharya is a trusted lieutenant of Banerjee, being the president of the Mahila Trinamool Congress and holding independent charge of the judicial and law department. More importantly, she is the Minister of State for Health and Banerjee’s eyes and ears in the crucial ministry.

Indrani Haldar is a National Award-winning actress who had taken part during a protest movement against the Left Front regime during the Nandigram movement, but joined the Trinamool as late as 2017, during its July 21 Martyr’s Day rally.

The 48-year-old cannot be called a hardcore politician. At best she is a part-time politician surfacing on the Trinamool platform at big events like the latest sit-in.

(Sirshendu Panth can be reached at s.panth@ians.in)

—IANS

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