If Nandigram provided the spark that lit the revolution against the ruling Left Front government, Mamata Banerjee promised on Thursday a second revolution of development for the impoverished area in East Midnapore, which goes to polls on May 3. And, responding to her supporters who gathered in large numbers to welcome her back to Nandigram, the Trinamool chief hinted that she could choose this constituency to enter the state assembly.
Nandigram, in many ways, is responsible for bringing the Trinamool Congress so close to power. It was here that the police fired on unarmed villagers in March 2007, killing 14 of them. Since then, the Trinamool Congress has never looked back: it won the panchayat elections in 2008, the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and the municipal polls.
Mamata returned the favour in the best way she could. On Thursday, she promised to turn the region into an industrial hub and create jobs for at least 10,000 people. She also vowed to set up schools, colleges and hospitals and an international market for zari workers (many locals work outside the state). She lauded the fight of the "Nandigram women against bullets and assaults".
As Mamata held forth, every word she spoke was greeted with loud cheers. Just a few hundred yards away from the meeting venue stood the Tekhali bridge that separated the agitating farmers from the CPI(M) strongholds during the struggle. It was also near the spot where 14 unarmed men and women were killed in the police firing. "It's an iconic structure," Mamata said, adding "It was from here that the call for the CPI(M)'s ouster was raised in West Bengal."
The Nandigram agitation not only holds a special significance for Mamata alone. All over the country, the agitation sent a strong message against forcible land acquisition by the government. At the same time, it assumed another significance for Bengal.
For the first time, the state witnessed a leaderless protest of farmers who came out of their comfort zones in their thousands to face police bullets. It also saw the silent and forceful entry of Maoists in the region, who taught untrained villagers how to pick up arms, fire guns and dig trenches on roads to prevent police movement.
The Nandigram agitation also threw up several local leaders. Subhendu Adhikari , now an MP, is the undisputed leader of the region and much of the Trinamool Congress's electoral fortunes of the region depends on him.
"Is Nandigram a turning point for your party?" HT asked Adhikari. He paused for a while and said, "Let the people answer that question."