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Mahua Moitra: From JPMorgan to Trinamool candidate

April 27, 2019 15:23 IST

'I'm just about getting out of the cocoon now,' the former investment banker-turned-politician tells Kavita Roychowdhury.

IMAGE: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Mahua Moitra. Photograph: Kind courtesy Mahua Moitra/Facebook

Every time a party worker on the loudspeaker ahead of her on the roadshow pronounced "Mitro" instead of "Moitro", Trinamool Congress candidate Mahua Moitra corrected him.

Yet, he would end up pronouncing her name incorrectly, much to her annoyance.

Moitra was holding the roadshow in Krishnanagar, 120 km from Kolkata, a primarily rural constituency in Nadia district with the municipality zone as its only urban centre.

She is no stranger to these parts. Karimpur, from where she is a sitting MLA since 2016, is an adjoining assembly segment to the Krishnanagar parliamentary constituency.

"Just after I returned from the US in July 2008, as part of the Congress's Aam Aadmi Ka Sipahi programme, I worked in Nadia district extensively," Moitra said.

 

Moitra, who graduated in economics and maths from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, US, turned heads when she quit her job as vice-president at JPMorgan (she was posted in New York and London) and took a plunge into active politics.

Trading her high heels for sneakers (she never wears flats), the gutsy 43 year old has weathered it out successfully for the past 10 years in the tumultuous world of Indian politics, the last eight years in the Trinamool Congress, in which she is both party spokesperson and general secretary.

Moitra credited her investment banking background for preparing herself for a career in politics.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Mahua Moitra/Facebook

"The three important things you need in investment banking are what you need in politics. The first is hard work -- the capacity for both mental and physical labour. The second is self-discipline. Politics is a long road and there are ups and downs. If you're not disciplined, it's easy to lose oneself," she says.

"Just as in investment banking, you can be on a good deal or a bad deal and still have to go ahead. And the third is perseverance. In politics, there are many shooting stars but the ones who have tenacity make it."

Locally procured Phulia cotton saree pallu covering her head, she extended her hand to everyone, young and old, for a "human touch" while campaigning.

"Your connection, it's a very big thing". The villagers love a "handsup (handshake)".

In the midst of all this, she did not miss to inquire from the sabhapati of every booth that her convoy crossed what is the "lead (the lead margin of votes)" that he will ensure from the booth under him.

So how does she reconcile the entirely two different worlds -- of her favourite Bobbi Brown eyeliner, Louis Vuitton handbag and that of a grassroots hands-on politician. "I don't," she says.

"I'm equally comfortable in both worlds. I'm a multi-faceted person. There are certain things I enjoy and there's no reason to hide that. For me, I'm at ease in London and I'm at ease in Nadia."

So what prompted her to join politics? It was at the 10th reunion at Mount Holyoke when she realised, most of her peers were highly successful bankers, all following the same trajectory.

She was clear then that she didn't want to come back for the 20th reunion just being "another managing director".

"It (her desire to join politics) was always deep-rooted in me," she says, "right from the time I was an 18 year old".

The brief two-year association with the Congress ended when Moitra realised that there were no Congress workers on the ground and the party always compromised with the Left.

"With Mamata Banerjee, there was no dichotomy," says Moitra. It is this "clarity of decision-making" of the party supremo, the "courage of her convictions and her fearlessness" that appealed to Moitra.

Moitra's hard work in the Karimpur assembly constituency, where she has done Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.5 billion) worth of work in just three years, didn't go unnoticed; she was handpicked by Banerjee for the Krishnanagar seat.

Rejecting reports of a saffron threat, Moitra dismissed her BJP opponent footballer Kalyan Chaubey as "just a goalkeeper. I am a centre forward, a striker".

The incumbent, Tapas Paul of the TMC, had defeated his opponent by 77,000 votes and Moitra wants the margin to be a record-breaking 100,000.

Asked whether she views herself a caterpillar in politics or a matured butterfly, she laughed. "My wings...I'm just about getting out of the cocoon now."

Kavita Chowdhury in West Bengal
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