NEW DELHI, Feb. 11 -- There is one story about West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee that Mou Mondal, 20, has heard since she was a child. The year was 1999 and Kolkata was in the throes of a general election. Banerjee, then an Opposition leader, had walked out of her party, the Congress, barely a year ago and formed the Trinamool Congress (TMC). The fledgling party's twoflower symbol was fighting for graffiti space with that of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI (M)'s hammer and sickle on the city's walls. Banerjee was crisscrossing the state to drum up support for her party's nominees against the entrenched Left Front, which had been ruling the state for 22 years by then.

The Mondals eked out a living in a working-class n...