India's 'Big Sister' ends 30 years of Communist rule

The steamy city of Kolkata, where peeling walls have for decades been painted red with the symbol of the Hammer and Sickle, is set to turn green.

Thirty-four years after Communists first seized political control of the city, Kolkata and the state of West Bengal have been wrenched from their hands.

The usurper is Mamata Banerjee, a diminutive but feisty woman, who toiled to build grassroots support that within little more than a decade turned into a force the Left could not handle.

Supporters of her party, recognised by its emerald-hued posters, have demanded one of Kolkata's most famous edifices, the Writers' Building, be painted green in celebration. Many of her followers spent the day blowing conch shells in glee and throwing around handfuls of green powder.

"We want to dedicate our victory to our people and motherland," declared Ms Banerjee, after securing a landslide victory, the final details of which were last night still being tallied. "We will give good governance and good administration, not autocracy."

Kolkata, until 1911 the imperial capital of the British Raj, is one of India's most iconic cities. It is famed for its simple coffee shops, lengthy conversations and excellent food.

Bengalis have a love for both culture and discussing politics and it is a place where a taxi driver, dressed in humble clothes, who picks you up at the airport in an ageing black and yellow cab, will spend the entire journey into the city explaining both the merits and failings of land reform, carried out under the Communists' most celebrated leader, Jyoti Basu, who died last year at the age of 95.

Indians from other parts of the country have a joke that one Bengali equals a poet, two Bengalis are a film society, three Bengalis represent a political party while four Bengalis means two political parties.

But visitors to the city often fall prey to over-romanticising Kolkata and ignoring the terrible poverty and hardships endured by so many of its people.

Under the rule of Mr Basu and others, when the Communist Party of India-Marxist became the longest-serving elected Communist government in the world, West Bengal fell behind badly in terms of development, employment and wealth creation compared to other parts of India. The Communists failed to attract foreign investment and a number of corporations looking to set up base there were ultimately pushed away. Kolkata is the only city in India where rickshaws are still pulled by hand.

"West Bengal was once the pride of India. The Communists have ruined it," Sonia Gandhi, head of the Congress Party which has an alliance with Ms Banerjee, recently announced before a crowd of 10,000 villagers at a schoolyard rally in Murshidabad district.

Unlike many of her Communist opponents who perhaps ironically grew up in elevated circumstances, Ms Banerjee was the daughter of a poor teacher. Even now, as head of her breakaway Trinamool Congress party and the railways minister in India's federal government, the woman commonly known as "Didi", or big sister, spurns her ministerial accommodation and lives with her mother in a small, single-storey home with a corrugated roof. She is famed for wearing simple rubber sandals and a plain, white sari.

In the years since 1998, when she first established her party with disaffected members of the Congress Party, Ms Banerjee, who is unmarried, has railed against West Bengal's floundering economy, forced land acquisition and rife corruption. For many among the state's population of 90m, after seven consecutive victories by the Communists her campaign battle-cry of change was too attractive to turn down.

For India's Congress Party, which heads the coalition that controls the federal government, yesterday brought mixed results. While in three of the five states where local elections were held, it secured victory with coalition allies, it lost badly in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. A likely reason for the loss was that its regional ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, was at the centre of a notorious corruption telecommunications scandal last year.

For the Communists, yesterday saw nothing but misery. They also lost control of the southern state of Kerala. It means the only place where the once mighty forces of the Left remain in control is the tiny state of Tripura, in the country's north-east.

Buddhadev Bhattacharya, the communists' chief minister in West Bengal, was even forced to endure the shame of losing his own constituency. He had tendered his resignation by mid-afternoon.

It is expected that Ms Banerjee will now in turn resign her cabinet portfolio and become the state's next chief minister, taking over the space vacated by him.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor