Mother Of All Battles: Nandigram to go Didi-way or Adhikari-way?
The most-watched constituency in Purba Medinipur and probably the entire West Bengal, Nandigram, is all set to go for voting on Friday, April 1 in the second phase of Assembly elections in West Bengal. It will witness a high stakes battle between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and, her protégé-turned-rival, Suvendu Adhikari.
Nandigram, about 150 kilometers away from the state’s capital Kolkata, hit the headlines after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee decided to shift from her traditional seat of Bhawanipour to contest from here, taking the fight directly to BJP’s doorstep, who have pitched Suvendu Adhikari from Nandigram. She renounced her traditional seat, which is usually considered as her ‘safe seat of 10 years’, to contest against Adhikari. Given its history of resistance, Nandigram holds significance for both the parties.
The Nandigram agitation in 2007
After winning the 2006 assembly election, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee led-Left Front government decided to bring in industrialisation to the state, and Nandigram was chosen as the heart of this development drive. The Left government wanted to set up a special economic zone of 10,000 acres for a chemical hub in the area. However, the local residents saw this move as a ploy to acquire their land which gave rise to a long and bloody agitation. Soon, the Left Front government realised the move might backfire against them and withdrew the decision. However, it was too late. The multiple acts of violence and bloodshed in the following months had given enough fodder to the Trinamool Congress to attack the Left Front government.
TMC, which had a disastrous run in the 2006 assembly elections, managing to win only 30 seats, won 184 seats with an absolute majority of seats, uprooting the 34 years of Left Front rule in the state. Ten years later, Mamata Banerjee is contesting from the same seat which propelled her to power in 2011 and taking on her former aide in a high-octane battle.
Trusted Lieutenant Turned Foe
Although Mamata’s reached the power corridors of West Bengal on the back of Nandigram's agitation, she chose her trusted lieutenant Suvendhu Adhikari to contest from Nandigram. Suvendu, a key ground-level strategist for the TMC before joining BJP, galvanised support for the Nandigram movement and played a key role in TMC’s rise in West Bengal. The Adhikari family also carries significant clout in the Purba Medinipur.
He was elected to Lok Sabha from Tamluk Constituency in 2009 by defeating CPI-M’s strongman Lakshman Seth by 1.72 lakh votes. Later, in 2014, he retained the Tamluk parliamentary constituency by defeating CPI-M’s Ibrahim Ali. The TMC again fielded him in the assembly election from Nandigram in 2016. Suvendu easily won the contest, polling over 67 per cent of votes in Nandigram. After his spectacular win, Mamata Banerjee made him the Minister of Transport. He was also given the charge of the Environment Ministry in 2018.
However, Suvendu’s fallout with the TMC supremo began in 2018 with the rise of Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee in the party. He was also apparently irked over some organisational changes by the party such as the appointment of new faces as in-charge of the districts last year. Now, the former strongman has vowed to defeat Mamata Banerjee by the margin of 50,000 votes.
“I will defeat her by a margin of at least 50,000 votes or I will quit politics,” said Suvendu Adhikari before his nomination was even annouched by BJP.
Down But Not Out
The 66-year-old leader often describes herself as “the streetfighter” and is known to take the fight directly to her enemy’s den. From breaking away from Congress to flout her own party to ending the Left Front rule in the state, Mamata Banerjee is not the one to shy away from a good political fight.
As most of her trusted party leaders defected to BJP, Mamata Banerjee is fighting one of the toughest battles of her political career, and that too from a wheelchair. Considering the high-stake battle, Banerjee has been camping in Nandigram ever since she submitted her nomination. In most of her public meetings, she has singled out Adhikari and called him a ‘traitor’.
“Too much greed is never good. They will be left nowhere after the elections. They will be 'na ghar ka, na ghat ka',” she said at the public rally in Nandigram. If Suvendu has pitched himself as the ‘son of the soil’, Mamata has gone one step further and is placing herself in the battle of perception as the “daughter of Bengal”.
Her fierce spirit was even evident on the last day of the Nandigram campaign on Tuesday when she insisted that she would stand up for the National Anthem.
As the hottest seat of this election season goes to voting on April 1, it will be interesting to see who will emerge victorious on May 2 because the battle of Nandigram will make or break the political careers of one of these two political bigwigs.