'Masterstroke': Mamata Banerjee brings Nandigram back in focus; to contest against Adhikari
- Banerjee is set to contest against Adhikari, who said he will quit politics if the chief minister doesn’t lose by 50,000 votes.
13 years after a violent movement against acquisition of farmland for industry at Nandigram in West Bengal's East Midnapore district catapulted her and subsequently led to the defeat of the Left Front’s monolithic regime in 2011, Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee on Monday brought Nandigram back to the centre stage of politics on the eve of the imminent assembly polls.
Making a move that political observers described as a masterstroke, Banerjee, while addressing a rally at Nandigram, announced that she will contest from there against her bete noire Suvendu Adhikari, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) biggest weapon against the ruling party. Banerjee said she will also contest from south Kolkata’s Bhawanipore, her existing seat.
Adhikari, who resigned from the Nandigram seat and joined the BJP in the presence of Union home minister Amit Shah on December 19, accepted the challenge while addressing a rally at Rashbehari in south Kolkata, close to the chief minister’s home. “Write this down and mention the date and time. I will leave politics if I cannot defeat her by half lakh (50,000) votes,” Adhikari said at the rally.
Adhikari, who will hold a counter-rally in Nandigram on Tuesday, alleged that the crowd seen at Banerjee’s rally was ferried from other districts.
BJP, Congress and Left leaders lost no time in attacking Banerjee, saying she would be contesting from Nandigram in addition to Bhawanipore because she was not confident of winning from her old seat where the TMC’s vote share has decreased in recent polls.
“The BJP had pushed back the TMC (by 496 votes) in Mamata Banerjee’s own ward (KMC Ward No 73) under Bhowanipore Assembly constituency during 2019 Lok Sabha elections. That explains Pishi’s jitteriness and decision to change her seat... If the CM is not sure, can her party win?” tweeted Amit Malviya, head of the BJP’s national information technology cell who had been given additional charge of Bengal prior to the polls. Since months, Malviya has been referring to Banerjee as pishi (aunt in Bengali).
“Bhawanipore is my elder sister and Nandigram is my younger sister. I will try to contest from both assembly constituencies. The people of Bhawanipore may feel bad. But I don’t want to hurt them. If I can manage (to contest from both constituencies) it is okay. But I will contest from Nandigram,” Banerjee said at the rally.
The TMC-led movement against acquisition of farmland for a chemical hub at Nandigram witnessed unprecedented violence in the last years of the Left Front government and helped Banerjee come to power. The violence, which continued for more than two years, erupted after 14 villagers died in police firing in 2007.
It is widely acknowledged that without the Nandigram movement and a prolonged agitation against the proposed Tata small car plant at Singur in Hooghly district, Banerjee might not have been able to overthrow the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government. The two incidents rocked the state, grabbed headlines in the international media and galvanized public opinion against the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government.
On Monday, it was Banerjee’s first rally at Nandigram after Adhikari joined the BJP. Before and after joining the saffron camp, Adhikari has said at almost every rally that it was he who led the land movement as a son of the soil.
On Monday, it appeared that Banerjee was not initially sure about her decision. "I am not announcing any name for the Nandigram assembly seat. I will announce it later. But I promise to field a good candidate who will stay here and work for the people," she said in her first remarks.
Seconds later, she said, "How will it be if I contest from Nandigram myself? It is my feeling that I shared. Nandigram finds a place in my heart and soul.” She then went ahead and announced her decision.
The TMC has faced a tough challenge in Nandigram in recent times.
In East Midnapore, members of the Adhikari family have a massive fan following. The district’s Contai and Tamluk Lok Sabha seats are represented by Suvendu’s father Sisir Adhikari and his elder brother Dibyendu Adhikari. Both are likely to join the BJP, TMC leaders feel.
While Suvendu and his brother Soumendu have already joined the BJP, other family members have also distanced themselves from the ruling party. None from the Adhikari family were present at Banerjee’s rally.
Election analyst and Kolkata-based political science professor Udayan Bandopadhyay said, “Mamata Banerjee played a masterstroke. In one single move, she turned the battle between the TMC and the BJP into a battle between herself and Suvendu."
"Winning the Nandigram seat will be a tough job for him now, given Banerjee’s image and popularity. Moreover, Banerjee’s challenge will force Adhikari to spend most of his time in his home district and Nandigram. He will not be able to work for the BJP in other districts. Banerjee killed many birds with one stone,” Bandopadhyay added.
In the 2016 elections, the TMC got 67 per cent votes in Nandigram while the BJP got only around 5 per cent but the latter made deep inroads in the 2019 elections and won around 30 per cent of the votes nibbling primarily into the Left’s vote share.
“I won’t be able to give much time to Nandigram before the polls, because I am the face for all 294 assembly seats. So you tackle everything (the campaign). Later, I will do the rest,” Banerjee told the people who gathered in large numbers.
While the TMC claimed that around 3,00,000 people attended the rally, Suvendu Adhikari said only 30,000 had turned up.
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