Profile: Bengal firebrand Mamata Banerjee

Mamata Banerjee Mamata Banerjee has throughout her political life been both charismatic and frugal

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The triumph of Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC) party in West Bengal is a double cause of celebration for this most resilient of politicians.

It is the first time in nearly 35 years that the communists and their far-left allies have lost power in a state which they had come to regard as an electoral stronghold.

But it also a spectacular personal triumph for Ms Banerjee who has overcome the odds to stage a remarkable victory.

In 2006, the TMC won 10% of the seats in a local assembly election, while the left-wing coalition won nearly 80% of the seats. In national elections in 2004, the TMC won only one of the 42 seats of West Bengal state.

At that point she was considered something of a "political oddball".

But her energy, charisma and political astuteness has enabled her to bounce back from the political wilderness into the mainstream of West Bengal politics.

Overnight cheerleader

The 56-year-old is the founder and chairperson of the TMC - which she set up in 1998 after falling out with the Congress Party in West Bengal.

Mamata Banerjee leading his supporters Mamata Banerjee is a street-fighting politician

Unlike most politicians who quit the Congress party, Ms Banerjee has not sheepishly returned to the party after the independent venture failed.

Instead the TMC grew in popularity over the years because of her firebrand oratory and her support for causes that were widely popular throughout her home state.

In recent years, for example, the party has been at the forefront of opposition to West Bengal's controversial policy of building Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in rural areas - a cause that won her much admiration in a state where large parts of the electorate still earn their living from the land.

Taking up the issues of small farmers, Ms Banerjee became an overnight cheerleader of West Bengal's rural poor, realising that revolutionary action sometimes works wonders with them.

"She resorted to Marxist rhetoric, whereas Marxist parties changed their class position and started acquiring farmers' land for private investors," said political commentator Biplab Chakravarty.

Mamata Banerjee was born in Calcutta in January 1955 to a lower middle class family and initially started her political career with the Congress party.

As a young woman in the 1970s, the colourful graduate from the University of Calcutta was speedily promoted - on one occasion she even danced on the bonnet of a political opponent's car.

She has succeeded throughout her political life in pulling off colourful political stunts like this while simultaneously embracing a Gandhi-like frugal lifestyle - seldom spending money on clothes, cosmetics or jewellery and often to be seen with only a simple cotton bag on her shoulder.

Folksy rhetoric

In the 1984 general election Ms Banerjee became one of India's youngest ever MPs, defeating a veteran communist candidate.

Even at this early stage of her career, she proved her ability to make an impact on the national political stage while simultaneously strengthening her West Bengal power base.

Supporters of Mamata Banerjee Ms Banerjee has tapped into public disenchantment with the Communists

She lost her seat in the 1989 election, only to bounce back in the 1991 poll to become a minister in the government of PV Narasimha Rao - she has retained her Calcutta South seat in five votes since then and is currently India's railways minister.

But over the years she became disillusioned at what she saw as endemic corruption both within the Congress party nationally and within the communist party of West Bengal.

In her home state it became clear that the woman popularly known as "Didi" - elder sister - had the popular touch, staging "walkathons" throughout the state surrounded by her raucous supporters and a phalanx of security men.

Using folksy rhetoric she has over the years relentlessly lampooned her communist opponents, often using native limerick and doggerel.

Commentators say that throughout her career she has been consistent in her anti-left stance, a tough negotiator in her alliances and a street-fighter.

"She's an archetypal rebel," says former BBC correspondent Subir Bhaumik.

In a country where female politicians are often cruelly caricatured, the indefatigable Ms Banerjee is one of the few mass leaders left in India.

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