It all began with the former mentee challenging his previous mentor and culminated in what's being called the mother of all battle with the commander-turned-contender accepting the dare. Now it's an all-out war between Mamata Banerjee and Suvendu Adhikari in the epicentre Nandigram. In the second phase of the West Bengal elections, a total of 30 assembly seats are going to the polls on 1 April, but East Medinipur district's Nandigram constituency has hogged the headlines.
It looks like the wheel has turned full circle with the TMC chief once again taking the Nandigram route to lay her claim to the seat of power, after the hotbed of the 2007 farmer agitation, along with Singur, precipitated Mamata Banerjee rise to the throne in 2011.
The only difference is that, in the past, she did not have to take up the cudgels herself fighting from the Nandigram seat. Last time, once-her-lieutenant-now-opponent Suvendu Adhikari contested and won the constituency, and in the 2011 elections, TMC candidate Firoja Bibi - also called the 'Mother of Martyr' due to the death of her son in the 2007 Nandigram violence - registered a victory from there. All the while, Mamata Banerjee had been securing her success from the safe seat of Bhowanipore in South Kolkata.
Perhaps the West Bengal Chief Minister took the bait because she needed to redeem her domination, both in the party and the state, after the massive exodus of the TMC leaders. In his constant provocations after joining the BJP, Suvendu Adhikari, not only questioned her supremacy but also tried to appropriate her Nandigram feat. Persistently cornered by the BJP on corruption, nepotism, cut money and tolabaji, Mamata Banerjee decided to put her best foot forward to reclaim her authority combating from a place of the opposition's choosing.
The elections in West Bengal are divided into eight phases but all eyes are on the second phase battle of Nandigram which will determine the future of Mamata Banerjee. No one left anything for chance. While the Chief Minister spent the last three days of campaigning crisscrossing the constituency, Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a massive roadshow for BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari before the campaigning for the second phase drew to a close on Tuesday.
Interestingly, the bitter war of words between the two main political forces in Nandigram began with "Bengal's daughter" vs "son of the soil" and ended with an exchange of "Mir Jafar" and "Begum" barbs. While Mamata Banerjee named her former aide Adhikari a "Mir Jafar" for 'betraying' her, he lambasted her for the 'appeasement of minority communities' labelling her a "Begum" who wishes people on Holi with 'Holi Mubarak'.
To counter the BJP charges and woo the Hindu voters, Mamata Banerjee, in the last lap of campaigning, played just another soft Hindutva card by declaring her gotra. Earlier, she had recited 'Chandi Path' and resorted to the temple run to stop the BJP from eating into the TMC Hindu base.
With the soft and aggressive Hindutva playing out, the Nandigram fight appears to have become polarised. If we look at the religious demography of the area, according to the 2011 census, Nandigram has around 73 per cent Hindu and 27 per cent Muslim populations. The BJP aims at consolidating the Hindu votes, while the TMC wants to retain its sway in the area.
In the last assembly elections, Suvendu Adhikari, as a TMC candidate, received 67% votes. Three years later, in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the BJP gained over 30% votes in the region but failed to win. Nandigram falls in the Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency. The TMC lost over 3 per cent votes but won the seat. In the end, the loss of CPI(M) turned out to be the gain of the BJP in the area.
This time, only the results (on May 2) will reveal if Suvendu Adhikari could shift his support base to the BJP account. He is believed to be the architect of the TMC vote bank in the region. Adhikari is the man who spearheaded the farmer protest in Nandigram. When the agitation started in 2007, Suvendu Adhikari was a TMC MLA from the Kanthi Dakshin assembly seat. He went on to win the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections from the Tamluk constituency before returning to the West Bengal assembly in 2016 clinching the Nandigram seat.
Amid the trade of allegations during the high-voltage campaigning, Mamata Banerjee accused Adhikari of being responsible for the police firing on the agitating farmers in Nandigram in 2007. She also kept repeating in the rallies that it was Adhikari who did not let her visit Nandigram or Medinipur to meet the people earlier. But the voters understand that an MLA can't stop a CM from visiting an area.
The purported phone conversation between Mamata Banerjee and former TMC leader Pralay Pal betrayed her nervousness when she was heard seeking his help to win Nandigram. When the controversy erupted, the Chief Minister admitted that she made that call to ask about his health.
While Mamata Banerjee's candidature has turned the spotlight on Nandigram, a total of 171 candidates in the constituencies across four districts of West Bengal are in the fray in the second phase of elections. Nine assembly seats each are up for grabs in East and West Medinipur districts, while eight constituencies in Bankura and four in South 24 Parganas will exercise their franchise on Thursday.
(Edited by : Jerome)