Kolkata: Mamata Banerjee, the stormy petrel of West Bengal politics, once again proved a master strategist decimating the new Left-Congress combination and the BJP all of whom sought to checkmate her return to power.
The ruling Trinamool Congress appeared set to retain power with a two-third majority in West Bengal on Thursday, as its candidates led in 208 of the 294 constituencies.
The Left-Congress nominees were ahead in 74 constituencies.
Candidates of the BJP and its allies were leading in 10 places. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, one of the BJP's allies, was ahead in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.
The Trinamool wave appeared to be crushing all the opposition in the southern parts of the state while the Left-Congress challenge was most visible in northern Bengal.
Among the prominent Trinamool leaders on the road to victory was Finance Minister Amit Mitra from Khardaha.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra led from his constituency Narayangarh while Congress' Manas Bhunia was ahead in Sabang.
Among celebrity candidates, Trinamool's Laxmi Ratan Shukla (Howrah North) and Baishali Dalmiya (Bally) were in the lead.
The 61-year-old feisty leader, who had single-handedly wrecked the red bastion in West Bengal in 2011 ousting Left Front's uninterrupted 34-year-old rule, was unfazed by the coming together of Left parties and their once bitter rival Congress ahead of the Assembly polls.
She also faced an all out attack by BJP which fielded top party stalwarts led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, a battery of Union Ministers and state leaders for campaigning but they finally found that there was no way to stop her Trinamool Congress from romping home to victory.
Founder and chairperson of the Trinamool Congress which she set up in 1998 after falling out with the Congress Party in West Bengal, Banerjee, fondly called `Didi` (sister) by her supporters, has been the nemesis of the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Front and has earned the reputation of being a tough street fighter.
Banerjee earned laurels for various development initiatives in the state but also faced criticism over Saradha chit fund and Narada scams.
After taking over as the chief minister in 2011, she had steered Trinamool Congress through victory in subsequent elections to panchayat, civic bodies and 2014 Lok Sabha.
Among various development schemes undertaken by her as the chief minister were 'Kanyashree' schemes for girls and 'Sabuj Sathi' under which cycles were dsitributed among the students, besides Rs 2 kg rice for the 8 crore people in the state.
However, multi-crore scams like Saradha and Narada had dented the image of her party as the opposition had made it a prime issue.
Born to a middle class family and daughter of a freedom fighter and student of law and education, Banerjee in her initial years in public life was mentored by veteran Congress leader Subrata Mukherjee - now ironically a senior minister in her state cabinet.
Banerjee, baptized into politics as a student leader in Chhatra Parishad - Congress student wing in the 1970s, shot into limelight by pulling off a stunning victory over CPI-M heavyweight and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections in from Jadavpur constituency to become one of the youngest MPs.
She soon became a rallying point for the anti-Left Front forces which saw in her an uncompromising, incorruptible and credible fighter in comparison to various senior leaders of state Congress of nineties.