Mamata Banerjee: The soldier who trumped BJP war machine

News Network
May 3, 2021

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She's the soldier, she the commander and she the army.

The distinction between Mamata Banerjee the leader and TMC the party evaporated into nothingness as she conquered West Bengal fighting the BJP's election war machine led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah almost single-handedly.

The victory for Banerjee, by far the biggest mass leader since the redoubtable Jyoti Basu who ruled West Bengal with an iron fist from 1977 to 2000, will not only help fortify her position in the state but also enhance her standing at the national level where voices from the opposition are getting feeble with time.

A masterful practitioner of modern-day politics, she has wielded considerable influence beyond her own state, in the corridors of power in New Delhi, for a long time, sewing up alliances with both the Congress and the BJP.

Since leading thousands of hungry, half-clad and angry farmers on the dusty streets of Singur and Nandigram over a decade ago, she ruled the state virtually unchallenged for eight years before the BJP vastly extended its influence and won 18 of the state's 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.

For the 66-year-old spinster, the political journey from the restive alleys of Nandigram and Singur in 2007-08, when she waged a relentless battle against the Left Front government, to 'Nabanna', the seat of power in Kolkata, was as captivating as it was punishing.

Although she cut her teeth in politics as a young Congress volunteer in her student days and rose to become a minister in UPA and NDA governments, it was in the crucible of Nandigram and Singur movements against forcible acquisition of farm land by the Communist government for industrialisation that her destiny and that of the TMC took shape.

She founded the TMC in January 1998 after parting ways with the Congress and it was through struggles, big and small, against the Communist dispensation that her party grew.

In 2001, when the state had its first assembly polls after the launch of the TMC, the party bagged an impressive 60 seats in the 294-member House, while the Left Front clinched a staggering 192.

In its second outing in the 2006 assembly elections, the TMC's strength came down by half as it could pocket only 30 seats, while the Left scored a resounding victory with 219.

The four years that followed were the most momentous in the contemporary political history of West Bengal as she put up a spirited fight against the Left Front government over alleged excesses in Singur and Nandigram.

The assembly elections of 2011 were historic, as she decimated the Left in one of its longest-standing bastions. Banerjee's party ended the Left Front's 34-year unbroken stint in power, winning a whopping 184 seats, riding a massive public outrage against the communists, who were restricted to just 60 seats. It was then the longest-serving democratically elected communist government in the world.

But power has many pitfalls and rising aspirations is one of them. A string of influential TMC leaders including Suvendu Adhikari, the MLA from Nandigram and a minister, deserted Banerjee and joined the BJP.

Born into a Bengali Brahmin family, Banerjee, as a young Congress activist, formed 'Chhatra Parishad' unions in colleges.

She rose through the Congress ranks rapidly and was called a giant slayer when she defeated CPI-M heavyweight Somnath Chatterjee in Jadavpur in the 1994 Lok Sabha elections held in the aftermath of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi's assassination.

She lost the seat to Malini Bhattacharya in 1989, when an anti-Congress wave swept the country after the Bofors scandal came to light, the only time she lost an election.

She won the Kolkata South Lok Sabha seat in 1991 which she retained in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009.

As Minister of State for Sports in the P V Narasimha Rao government, the quick tempered leader announced her resignation and held a rally in Kolkata's Brigade Parade Ground against what she believed was government's neglect of sports. She was divested of all her portfolios including Women and Child Welfare and Human Resource Development in 1993.

In 1996, she accused the Congress of behaving like a "stooge" of the Left and founded the Trinamool Congress in 1998.

She joined the NDA in 1999 and was appointed the railway minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, and launched new trains and rail projects in West Bengal.

Banerjee quit the NDA in 2001 in the aftermath of the Tehelka expose, which brought under cloud several ministers in the Vajpayee government, and aligned with the Congress again the same year.

She was back in the NDA in 2003 and was appointed the coal and mines minister in 2004.

She contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2004 as part of the NDA and her party lost badly. She was the lone Lok Sabha MP of the TMC from West Bengal.

In 2006, the TMC fared abysmally in the state assembly elections.

Before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, she joined the Congress-led UPA and the alliance won 26 of the state's 42 seats. She was beck as the railway minister.

As public outrage grew over the Left Front government's crackdown on protests in Nandigram that killed 14 people and injured scores more in police firing, Banerjee's popularity grew exponentially.

Singur and Nandigram became emblematic of mass resistance against the communist rulers, and in 2011 assembly elections, the TMC won a landslide. The TMC-Congress-SUCI alliance won 227 of the 294 seats.

After being sworn in as the chief minister on May 20, 2011, one of the first decisions of her government was to return 400 acres of land acquired by the governent for Tata Motors Nano project to the farmers. The Tatas had already exited Singur.

Banerjee launched a slew of welfare projects in health and education sector and for empowerment of women, and tried to strengthen the law and order machinery by setting up police commissionerates in Howrah, Bidhannagar, Barrackpore and Durgapur-Asansol.

The BJP, rapidly expanding its influence in the state at the Left's expense, accused her of minority appeasement after she instituted a stipend for thousands of imams and muezzins of mosques. The Kolkata High Court called it unconstitutional and stopped payment.

She earned the BJP's wrath when she banned the immersion of Durga idols in October 2016 till after observation of Muharram by Muslims.

Ministers in the Banerjee government and key TMC leaders got embroiled in the Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scam cases. Quite a few were jailed.

Though these allegations indeed chip away at Banerjee's popularity reflected in the BJP's impressive showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, nothing stuck in the assembly elections.

'Didi' became the real 'Dada' as she got past the post, on a wheelchair and a foot in cast, a souvenir from the Nandigram battle against former protege-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari.  

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News Network
September 8,2021

The Taliban has appointed Mohammad Hasan Akhund, a close aide to the group’s late founder Mullah Omar, as head of Afghanistan’s new caretaker government, weeks after it took control of the country in a rapid offensive.

The list of cabinet members announced by chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Tuesday was dominated by members of the group’s old guard, with no women included.

Abdul Ghani Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s political office, will be the deputy leader while Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the founder of the Haqqani Network, has been named as interior minister.

Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, has been named as defence minister. Hedayatullah Badri will be the acting minister of finance, while Amir Khan Muttaqi, a Taliban negotiator in Doha, was named foreign minister.

“The Islamic Emirate decided to appoint and announce a caretaker cabinet to carry out the necessary government works,” said Mujahid, who named 33 members of “the new Islamic government” and said the remaining posts will be announced after careful deliberation.

Speaking at a news conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Mujahid stressed the cabinet was an “acting” government and that the group will “try to take people from other parts of the country”. 

Akhund, the acting prime minister, is on a United Nations sanctions list.

Hailing from Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, Akhund was previously the foreign minister and then deputy prime minister during the group’s last stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

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News Network
September 15,2021

New Delhi, Sept 15: After its recent withdrawal from the Afghanistan, the United States has hinted that it has been in talks with the government of India for using airfields in India as “staging areas” for carrying out aerial surveillance and launching attacks on terrorists in Pak-Afghan region.

President Joe Biden’s administration is “deeply engaged” with New Delhi, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said, testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives – the lower house of the American Congress.

He was responding to Republican Party’s Representative Mark E Green, who asked if the Biden Administration had reached out to New Delhi for using “over-the-horizon” capabilities from “staging areas” in north-west India for neutralising potential threats to the United States in and around Afghanistan, in view of the collusion between the Taliban and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan.

 “We are deeply engaged with India across the board,” Blinken replied to Green.

He, however, did not share the details of the discussion between the two governments on the US launching drones from India for keeping watch on terrorist infrastructures in Afghanistan.

“With regard to any specifics about over-the-horizon capabilities and the plans we put in place or continue to put in place, I would rather take that up in a different setting,” Blinken replied to Green.

The Taliban of late returned to power in Afghanistan through a swift military campaign across the country taking advantage of the withdrawal of the US troops.

Biden and other senior officials of his administration in Washington DC repeatedly stated over the past few weeks that the US had sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to neutralise the threat posed by Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda – the objectives, which had been achieved over the past two decades.

Though terrorism continued to remain a threat and spread around the world, the US no longer required to deploy a large number of soldiers overseas to combat the menace as it had now developed the “over-the-horizon” capabilities of carrying out aerial surveillance and launch drones to eliminate such threats, they argued, justifying the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

But what may limit the US' capabilities of launching drone attacks on the terrorists and terror infrastructures in the region is the fact that some of the airbases it had earlier used for the purpose are no longer available to it after its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The nearest airbases the US can use are in Qatar, Kuwait and other countries in the Gulf and far away from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region where the targets may be located – a fact Green pointed out while asking Blinken about the Biden Administration’s discussion with New Delhi.

New Delhi did not officially make any comment on Green’s query or the reply given by Blinken.

The Commander of the US Special Operations Command, General Richard D Clarke, had visited New Delhi in July and held a meeting with the Indian Army chief Gen M M Naravane.

Admiral John C Aquilino, Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, also visited New Delhi and held a meeting with Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, just about 10 days after the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan.

India is a “major defence partner” of the US and the two nations had inked a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016, creating a framework to support each other's aircraft, ships and personnel with logistics, fuel and spares.

They also signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) in 2020 to enable the exchange of geospatial information between the two countries. 

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News Network
September 17,2021

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Kasaragod: Nagma Mohammed Mallick, a native of Kasaragod has been appointed as the Indian Ambassador to Poland. She took charge of the office on September 1. Nagma is the daughter of Mohammad Habibullah and Sulu Bhanu, both residents of Fort Road, Kasaragod.

Habibullah and his family shifted to Delhi from Kasaragod after getting a job in the Central Government's Overseas Communications Department. Nagma was born and raised in Delhi. She studied at St. Stephen's College and Delhi School of Economics. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and a master's degree in economics.

She started her career in 1991 as a career diplomat in the foreign service. Her first assignment was to the UNESCO Indian Mission in Paris. Later, she worked in various departments of the Ministry of External Affairs. She also served as staff officer to former Prime Minister IK Gujral.

Nagma was in charge of the commercial wing at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu. She was also an ambassador to Tunisia and Brunei. Her husband is Mallick, a lawyer in Delhi.

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