Banerjee was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), West Bengal to a Bengali 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. She did her Bachelor’s in History from the Jogamaya Devi College. Later she earned her Master’s degree in Islamic history from the University of Calcutta. This was followed by a degree in Education from the Shri Shikshayatan College and a Law degree from the Jogesh Chandra Chaudhuri Law College, Kolkata. She also received an honorary doctorate from Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, Bhubaneswar. She was also honoured with a Doctorate of Literature (D.Litt.) degree by the 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’s wing of the Congress (I) Party, defeating the Democratic Students’ Union of the Socialist Unity Centre of India. She continued in Congress (I) Party in West Bengal serving a variety of positions within the party and in other local political organizations.
Banerjee is a self-taught painter and a poet. Her 300 paintings were sold for ₹9crore
Banerjee began her political career in the Congress party 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, 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. Losing her seat in the 1989 general elections in an anti-Congress wave, she was reelected 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
Mamata Banerjee speaking to the elected members and party workers at Bongaon stadium after the West Bengal panchayat elections.
In 1997, 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.
In 1999, she joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and was allocated the Railways Ministry.
Railway Minister (first tenure)
In 2002, 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 Padatik Express, Shalimar-Adra Aranyak Express and the Sealdah-Amritsar Superfast Express (weekly). She also increased the frequency of the Pune-Howrah Azad Hind Express and the 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 Railway section to obtain 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 to protest the hike in petroleum prices, and then withdrew their resignations without providing any reasons.
Alliance with NDA
In early 2001, after Tehelka’s exposure of Operation West End, Banerjee walked out of the NDA cabinet and allied with the Congress Party for West Bengal’s 2001 elections, to protest the corruption charges levelled by the website against senior ministers of the government.
She returned to the NDA government in January 2004, and held the Coal and Mines portfolios till the Indian general election of 20 May 2004, in which she was the only Trinamool Congress member to win a Parliamentary seat from West Bengal.
On 20 October 2005, she protested against the forceful land acquisition and the atrocities perpetrated against local farmers in the name of the industrial development policy of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government in West Bengal. Benny Santoso, CEO of the Indonesia-based Salim Group had pledged a large investment in West Bengal, and the West Bengal government had given him farmland in Howrah, sparking protests. 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.
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. She was provoked by Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s rejection of her adjournment motion on illegal infiltration by Bangladeshis in West Bengal on the grounds 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. Banerjee 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 Trinamool Congress MLAs protested by damaging furniture and microphones in the West Bengal Assembly. A major strike was called on 14 December 2006.
Alliance with UPA
Before the 2009 parliamentary elections she forged an alliance with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by Indian National Congress. The alliance won 26 seats. Banerjee joined the central cabinet as the railway minister (second tenure). In the 2010 Municipal Elections in West Bengal, TMC won Kolkata Municipal Corporation by a margin of 62 seats. TMC also won Bidhan Nagar Corporation by a seven-seat margin. In 2011, Banerjee won a sweeping majority and assumed the position of chief minister of the state of West Bengal. Her party ended the 34-year rule of the Left Front.
TMC threatened to withdraw support from UPA in protest at the government’s decision to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail markets, and also against a hike of petrol diesel prices and gave a deadline of 72 hours to withdraw the reforms. On 18 September 2012, Banerjee declared her party had withdrawn support from the UPA and ran independently. The TMC’s minister submitted her resignation on 21 September 2012.
The Nandigram violence was an incident in Nandigram, West Bengal where, a battalion of armed police stormed the rural area in the district of Purba Medinipur with the aim of quashing protests against the West Bengal government’s plans to expropriate 10,000 acres (40 kms) of land for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be developed by the Indonesian-based Salim Group. At least 14 villagers were shot dead and 70 more were wounded. This led to a large number of intellectuals to protest on the streets.
Banerjee wrote letters to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil to stop what she called “state sponsored violence” promoted by CPI(M) in Nandigram. Her political activism during the movement is widely believed to be one of the contributing causes to her landslide victory in 2011.
The CBI report on the incident clearly vindicated CPI(M)’s stand that Buddhadeb did not order the police to open fire. They did so only to disperse the unlawful assembly after every other standard operating procedure had failed.
2009 Indian election
Trinamool Congress performed well in the 2009 parliamentary election, winning 19 seats. Its allies in congress and SUCI also won six and one seat respectively marking the best performance by any opposition party in West Bengal since the beginning of the Left’s regime. Until then, the Congress victory of 16 seats in 1984, was considered their best show in opposition.
Railway Minister (second tenure)
In 2009, Mamata Banerjee became the railway minister for the second time. Her focus was again on West Bengal.
She led Indian Railways to introduce a number of non-stop Duronto Express trains connecting large cities as well as a number of other passenger trains, including women-only trains. The Anantnag-Qadigund segment of the Jammu–Baramulla line that had been in the making since 1994 was inaugurated during her tenure. She also declared the 25 km (16 mi) long line-1 of the Kolkata Metro as an independent zone of the Indian Railways for which she was criticized.
She stepped down as railway minister to become the chief minister of West Bengal. She commented: “The way I am leaving the railways behind, it will run well. Don’t worry, my successor will get all my support.” Her nominee from her party, Dinesh Trivedi, succeeded her as railway minister.
Banerjee’s tenure as railway minister was subsequently questioned as most of the big-ticket announcements made by her when she held the post, saw little or no progress. 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 during her two-year tenure.
Chief Minister of West Bengal
First term, 2011–16
In 2011, the All India Trinamool Congress along with SUCI and the Indian National Congress 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 in resolving the longstanding Gorkhaland related violence by setting up 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 heath 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 criticized 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 Commissionerate’s 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 criticized 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-third 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. In October 2016, the West Bengal government banned the Durga Puja festival immersion after 4:00 pm. Durga Puja was to take place on 12 October and Muharram on 13 October. This was seen by a section of the West Bengal population as another example of the “Muslim Appeasement” policy of Banerjee’s government. The Calcutta High Court overturned the decision and called it “a bid to appease minorities.