Kolkata: Many women in Bengal see themselves in her, clad in a simple cotton sari and chappals and hair tied in a loose knot. And now that Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has done the impossible, they want 'Didi' to bring a 'woman's perspective' to the chief minister's chair and cast a hard look at gender issues at the grassroots.
Banerjee, who crushed the Left Front in the once impenetrable 'Red fort' of West Bengal, will give India its 14th woman chief minister. To a large extent, her success is seen to lie in her rustic appeal.
Lakshmi Maa who works as a maid says: 'She is one of us. She has brought in change. I am very happy. Now our condition will improve for sure.'
Banerjee is known to be fiery and emotional. But some women some say that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Medha Patkar, the well known social activist who has been Banerjee's comrade in her anti-land acquisition agitation, told IANS: 'We are hopeful. Emotional commitment to the cause of the people doesn't lead to bad administration.
'Governance doesn't mean merely technical governance. We will surely appreciate if her government can ensure equity and justice. Having a woman at the helm is a positive sign. We hope she would surely address the issues related to women in a better way.'
Asked if she would protest if the new government indulged in forcible acquisition, she replied: 'Why not? I am not part of any government. Whenever the rights of common people are infringed I will be there.'
Others too believe Banerjee will be able to address women's issues in a better way.
'Of course, it is important to have women in power. There is so much gender discrimination around, female foeticide and school dropouts. We hope she does a fair job,' said Ishita Mukherjee, president, Women's Studies Research Centre, an interdisciplinary research unit of Calcutta University.
'She must ensure that suitable gender policies are formulated, moreover she must lend her voice to the Woman's Reservation Bill.'
Social activist Anuradha Talwar said, 'It's good that women have begun to hold powerful positions. It's really ironical that the state never had a woman chief minister.'
Talwar, who was beside Banerjee in her career defining 'save the farmland movement' in Singur, however, feels it would not be smoothsailing for the new chief minister.
'She has a very tough fight ahead. The coffers of the state are almost empty. There are very high expectations. Hope she delivers,' she said.
Banerjee's rendezvous with politics started as a student leader and she rose steadily through the ranks. Unlike most other politicians who graduate to more fancy locales after making it big, she still lives in her modest, tile-roofed home in an obscure lane in south Kolkata's Kalighat and in much the same fashion as in the past. She has not married either.
So will getting a woman chief minister be a step towards women's empowerment for the state?
Bonita Aleaz, a Calcutta University professor, doesn't believe so. 'It surely is a welcome change, but merely having a woman chief minister doesn't mean empowerment.
'There is so much to be done at the grassroots. There is female foeticide, the literacy rate among women is not encouraging. Banerjee being a woman will surely look into the matter with a different perspective, which is important.'
State Women's Commission chairperson and former CPI-M parliamentarian Malini Bhattacharya, when asked to give her take on the state's first woman chief minster, refused saying: 'I cannot comment on political matters.'
West Bengal has 2,66,96,000 women voters.
Some feel her volatile personality will go against her.
Kalyani Rudra, 60, a housewife told IANS: 'It's unfortunate that a volatile, emotional person like her will be the chief minister.'
Nasreen Khan, a journalist, said: 'Considering her temperamental character it would be too much to expect anything from her. However, of late she has learnt to be restrained.
'May be as a woman I can look forward to action on women-related issues, especially gender discrimination.'