Mamata Banerjee, who is being seen as a major centre in the country's political power-play ahead of next year's general elections, is now the only woman chief minister in India.
The year started with three women chief ministers but after the recent elections, Banerjee is the only one to be in office. While, Vasundhara Raje Scindia lost power in Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir's Mehbooba Mufti resigned in June after ally BJP withdrew support from her government.
"Each woman chief minister, including me has won elections and then lost. Once you have lost, you have to leave. I am happy that Mamata Banerjee represents all of us women at the moment as the chief minister of Bengal and of course as a part of the opposition, she will have a role in the upcoming elections," Sheila Dikshit, who was the longest serving chief minister of Delhi, serving from 1998 to 2013, told PTI.
Banerjee, the eighth and current chief minister of West Bengal since 2011, is the first woman to hold the office. Known for her fiery speeches and keen political acumen, people close to her refused to comment on her achievements through the prism of her gender, but chose to highlight her political activism instead.
"She has led struggles for people's issues over decades, including a historic 26-day hunger strike. She has served as a seven-term MP, a three-time Union Cabinet Minister and twice-serving chief minister. Her courage, conviction and accomplishments are her credentials," said Derek O'Brien Trinamool's Parliamentary party leader in the Rajya Sabha, listing Banerjee's achievements.
Banerjee's political rivals too seem to see her as a politician first and a woman later. CPI(M)'s lone politburo member Brinda Karat said that Banerjee's style of governance did not benefit women.
"In politics it is not biology but ideology and political programmes that determine whether women as chief ministers are successful or not. What is of concern to me is that the number of women MLAs have decreased. There is no use having a woman on top and no women at lower levels of governance.
"As far as Mamata is concerned, her politics is one of authoritarianism and women cannot benefit from that," she said.
Ahead of the 2019 elections, Banerjee is being seen as one of the major centres of power in the nation's electoral politics. She has floated the idea of federal front in an effort to bring the regional parties together to take on the BJP. From holding meeting in Kolkata with Telangana's K Chandrashekar Rao, to supporting Arvind Kejriwal's sit-in at Delhi Lieutenant Governor's home, Banerjee is leaving no stone unturned.
Recently, the Congress even attacked her after she stopped short of congratulating the party or its chief for victories in the three Hindi heartland states. Congress leaders said these victories are giving sleepless nights to Banerjee's supporters, who want her to be the next prime minister.
Political analysts that PTI spoke with said that while as Bengal chief minister she has emerged as a force to reckon with, her role in the national level will depend on her final equation with the opposition leaders.
"Its too premature to comment on her role in the opposition. However she is and will always remain a significant player," said a senior political analyst, who didn't want to be named.
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