In battle for Bengal, Nandigram emerges as epicentre for TMC-BJP faceoff - Hindustan Times
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In battle for Bengal, Nandigram emerges as epicentre for TMC-BJP faceoff

Mar 30, 2021 08:30 PM IST

Banerjee, who alleged on Monday that Adhikari’s men were planning to create communal disturbance in Nandigram, focussed her attack on the central forces on Tuesday, alleging that policemen from BJP-ruled states were “terrorizing” voters and “distributing money from the PM Cares Fund”.

As campaigning for the second phase of the assembly elections in West Bengal came to an end on Tuesday afternoon, East Midnapore district’s Nandigram - where chief minister Mamata Banerjee is contesting against her protégé-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari - surpassed the 29 other constituencies that go to the polls on April 1 to emerge as the epicentre of the toughest battle the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are fighting in the eastern state.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addresses a rally on the last day of the campaign for the second phase of assembly polls in Nandigram on Tuesday. (PTI PHOTO.)
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addresses a rally on the last day of the campaign for the second phase of assembly polls in Nandigram on Tuesday. (PTI PHOTO.)

“If Mamata Didi is defeated by a mammoth margin in Nandigram, the Bengal polls are won. That is the easiest way to bring parivartan (change) in Bengal,” said Union minister Amit Shah after leading a colourful roadshow. More than 130 km away, his wife and daughter-in-law offered prayers at Bengal’s two most auspicious Kali temples; Kalighat, located close to the chief minister’s south Kolkata residence and Dakshineswar in the capital city’s northern outskirts.

As actor Mithun Chakraborty, the BJP’s star campaigner, followed Shah with a second roadshow, Banerjee moved from one location to the next to deliver vitriolic speeches. She accused the BJP of “bringing in ruffians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar,” the Election Commission of India (ECI) of “allowing it” and specifically targeted Adhikari, whom she repeatedly called “gaddar” (traitor).

For the first time since her injury on March 10, Banerjee left her wheelchair for a few minutes and stood up at one of her rallies to sing the national anthem. “I can manage with one leg. You don’t need to hold me,” she told her aides, apparently sending a veiled message to her adversaries.

Banerjee, who alleged on Monday that Adhikari’s men were planning to create communal disturbance in Nandigram, focussed her attack on the central forces on Tuesday, alleging that policemen from BJP-ruled states were “terrorizing” voters and “distributing money from the PM Cares Fund”.

“Do not be afraid. They are here for a few days but we will stay forever. We will take care of things once the elections are over,” Banerjee said at her rally in Sonachura.

Shah, on the other hand, referred to an alleged rape that took place in Nandigram on Monday night. “It happened within 5 km of the place where the chief minister is living. This goes to show how safe women are in Bengal,” quipped Shah who addressed three more rallies in other districts where polls will be held.

For Adhikari, a son of the soil, this election in an acid test. His brother, Dibyendu, the TMC Lok Sabha member from Tamluk, is also likely to join the saffron camp. Soumendu, the youngest sibling, switched sides in December last year. Their father Sisir Adhikari, the octogenarian Lok Sabha member from East Midnapore’s Contai, joined the BJP on March 21. Nandigram is part of the Tamluk Lok Sabha seat.

With about 27% of the 2,57,299 Nandigram voters being Muslims, religion is being seen by the BJP as a deciding factor in this election. The assembly segment’s total population is 3,56,382. The seat was in control of the Marxists from 1969 to 2009 with the only exception being the 1977 polls when the Janata Party emerged victorious.

Adhikari, who underwent training at RSS camps in his youth, is conscious about the political and demographic equations and has been referring to the chief minister as “begum” (Muslim empress) in all his speeches.

In the 2016 assembly election, Adhikari secured 67% votes in Nandigram while the BJP got only around 5% but the latter made deep inroads in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and won 29% votes in this assembly segment, nibbling primarily into the Left’s vote share. The BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats that year.

Nandigram is hogging headlines since January when Banerjee proposed to contest the rural seat where a violent resistance against the Marxist government’s futile bid to acquire farmland for a chemical hub had helped her come to power.

Whether it is the gunning down of 14 villagers by the police on March 14, 2007, or, pitched battles that continued for three years between members of the Bhoomi Uchched Protirodh Committee (BUPC) and Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M), cadres, Banerjee remained in the limelight by supporting the farmers.

Adhikari now claims it was he who stayed with the agitators while Banerjee made occasional trips from Kolkata with media teams in tow.

Over the past two days, Banerjee has been telling voters that Adhikari is lying about his role in the land movement. On Sunday, she even alleged that Adhikari and his father had a role in the killing of the 14 villagers on March 14, 2007.

Her statement has triggered a fresh debate with Adhikari now publicly questioning the TMC chief’s decision to induct retired police officer Satyajit Bandopadhyay who was among the officers sent to Nandigram on that day.

In the first phase of polling held on March 27, voter turnout was significantly high at almost 80%. Poll observers feel that the second phase will follow the same pattern.

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