In 2009, of course, Mamata can no longer be dismissed as a sideshow. But after 2004, when Trinamool was down to just one seat in Parliament, she had been dismissed as a spent force, an impression reinforced after 2007, when the Left Front registered its biggest ever victory in the West Bengal assembly elections. The celebrations had barely died down when the land acquisition issue surfaced. As the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, intellectuals and Maoists, hawkers' and fishermen's unions joined to take on the Left, Mamata jumped on the bandwagon. When the dust settled, she was leading the battle. In the process, she became the chief beneficiary of the string of defeats the Left Front faced in the panchayat polls of 2008. "She isn't just fearless and tenacious, she also has female intuition and political savvy," says a senior civil servant. "Just when everyone had written her off as a bit of a joke, she bounced back. It was she who captured the zeitgeist." And how.
Indeed, Mamata's capacity to capture the spirit of the moment, to connect with the people, has kept her afloat in politics all these years, even though hers has been a long and turbulent journey, full of impulsive and erratic decisions—from the days when she sat in the outer room of then Congress strongman Subroto Mukerji's home in Calcutta, to being noticed by Rajiv Gandhi in 1983 at a party conference, to defeating Somnath Chatterjee in her first parliamentary battle in Jadavpur in 1984.