Shah, Didi take aim in battle for Nandigram - Hindustan Times
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Shah, Didi take aim in battle for Nandigram

By, Kolkata
Mar 31, 2021 01:23 AM IST

Key rural seat among constituencies that go to polls on Thursday; campaigning for phase two concludes.

Union home minister Amit Shah and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee fired political salvos at each other on Tuesday as campaigning for the second phase of the assembly elections drew to a close with the spotlight on the prestigious seat of Nandigram, where the latter is taking on her protégé-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari.

“If Mamata Didi is defeated by a mammoth margin in Nandigram, the Bengal polls are won," Amit Shah said. In picture - Helicopter carrying Amit Shah takes off after a road show in Nandigram.(AFP)
“If Mamata Didi is defeated by a mammoth margin in Nandigram, the Bengal polls are won," Amit Shah said. In picture - Helicopter carrying Amit Shah takes off after a road show in Nandigram.(AFP)

The rural seat is one of 30 constituencies that go to polls on Thursday amid unprecedented security cover, with the Election Commission of India (ECI) deploying 651 companies of central armed personnel across 10,620 polling booths, where 7.6 million voters will exercise their franchise. Tensions ran high throughout the day, especially after a group of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters shouted “Jai Shri Ram” slogans when Banerjee’s convoy passed through the Balarampur and Tengua areas of Nandigram..

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“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 Shah after a roadshow. Actor Mithun Chakraborty also held road shows in support of the BJP candidate, Adhikari.

Also read | In battle for Bengal, Nandigram emerges as epicentre for TMC-BJP faceoff

Banerjee crisscrossed the constituency, addressing public meetings. She accused the BJP of “bringing in ruffians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar” and targeted the ECI. She also singled out Adhikari and repeatedly called him a traitor. “Just see what is happening here. Villagers are being hounded out of Balarampur village by BJP goons. The EC must ensure their safety. The EC must provide them with security,” she said.

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

Nandigram, part of the under-developed East Medinipur district, hit the headlines after Banerjee decided to shift from her traditional seat of Bhawanipur to contest against Adhikari, a former cabinet colleague and confidant. Campaigning has been fierce, especially after Banerjee accused Adhikari of being responsible for police firing on farmers protesting against a land acquisition bid in 2007 – an incident that propelled TMC to power in 2011.

For Adhikari, a local strongman and sitting MLA, who defected to the BJP in December, the election in an acid test. His father Sisir Adhikari, the octogenarian Lok Sabha member from East Midnapore’s Contai, joined the BJP on March 21 and represents the local parliamentary seat.“The begum’s defeat is written on the wall,” Adhikari said at a rally, referring to Banerjee as a Muslim empress.

On Tuesday, Banerjee, who alleged earlier that Adhikari’s men were planning to create communal disturbance in Nandigram, focused her attack on central forces, alleging that policemen from BJP-ruled states were “terrorising” voters and “distributing money from 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 in Sonachura.

Shah alleged that a woman was raped in Nandigram on Monday night. “It happened within five kilometres of the place where the chief minister is living. This goes on to show how safe women are in Bengal,” said Shah, who addressed two more rallies in other districts where polls will be held.

Banerjee also raked up a controversial phone call, where she was allegedly heard asking Pralay Pal, a former TMC leader who is now the local BJP vice-president, to help her win the seat. “Yes I had called up this BJP leader in Nandigram. I had got the feedback that someone wants to talk to me. So I talked to him after getting his number. I told him to keep well, to take care of his health. So what is my crime?” she said.

In the first phase of polling held on 30 seats in March 27, turnout was high at almost 80%. Poll analysts say that the second phase, which comprises four districts in the western and southern parts of the state, could follow the same pattern. All booths in the second phase have been declared sensitive by ECI.

Experts anticipate a tough fight in Nandigram, which was held by Left Parties for almost 40 years before becoming a TMC stronghold. A key theme of the campaign has been religious polarisation, with about 27% of the 257,299 Nandigram voters being Muslims. In the 2016 election, Adhikari secured 67% votes in Nandigram.

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