Once Mamata Banerjee’s victory ground against Left, Nandigram welcomes BJP
Kolkata: East Midnapore district’s Nandigram — where chief minister Mamata Banerjee contested against her protégé-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari — emerged as the biggest head-turner among all the assembly seats in Bengal on Sunday, after Banerjee was defeated by 1,956 votes.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) challenged the verdict and demanded a recount, a request that the Election Commission had not accepted, as of 9pm.
“We accept the people’s verdict, but we will move the court against the EC as there were many irregularities during the counting of votes. They (EC) made contradictory announcements, in between which, the EC’s server went down. The verdict does not match the voting pattern in adjacent constituencies and the rest of Bengal. How can there be so much of mismatch?” Banerjee told the media at her south Kolkata residence.
Adhikari was not available for comment but Jay Prakash Majumdar, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) state vice-president said, “Adhikari put up a brave fight. We congratulate him. We will learn from our mistakes but this election will remain as a milestone as the BJP has become the main opposition party in Bengal.”
Nandigram went to the polls on April 1 and emerged as epicentre of the battle between the TMC and BJP. On the day the constituency went to the polls, Banerjee alleged that votes were being rigged, visited a booth and stayed there for around two hours.
The contest was marked by high-pitch drama even before the election schedule was announced on February 26.
Making a move that political observers described as masterstroke, Banerjee, while addressing a rally at Nandigram on January 19, announced that she would contest from there against Adhikari.
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 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,” he said.
Banerjee took on the BJP from a wheelchair because of a left foot injury she suffered in Nandigram on March 10, hours after filing her nomination papers. After the incident, she alleged that some people intentionally closed the door of her SUV while she was standing on the footboard. The EC, after conducting an inquiry, dismissed the allegation but pulled up several officers and transferred those who were in charge of Banerjee’s security.
With about 27% of the 2,57,299 Nandigram voters being Muslims, religion was seen by the BJP as the deciding factor. 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 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) camps in his youth, was conscious of the political and demographic equations and repeatedly referred to the chief minister as “begum” (Muslim empress) in all his speeches and accused her of appeasing Muslims.
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. On Sunday, Minakshi Mukherjee, the young CPI(M) candidate, ended third in the race.
“Adhikari won because he was only BJP candidate who managed to polarize Hindu votes against the TMC. This did not happen elsewhere,” said columnist and political analyst Suvashis Maitra.
The saffron camp left no stone unturned to keep Banerjee under pressure.
“If Mamata Didi is defeated by a mammoth margin in Nandigram, the Bengal polls are won. That is the easiest way to usher ‘asol paribartan’ (real change) in Bengal,” union minister Amit Shah said after leading a colourful roadshow in the rural seat on March 30. Actor Mithun Chakraborty, the BJP’s star campaigner, followed Shah with a second roadshow on the same day.
Banerjee, while addressing a rally on the last day of campaigning, accused the BJP of “bringing in ruffians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.” She also targeted Adhikari, repeatedly calling him a “gaddar” (traitor).
Banerjee alleged that Adhikari’s men were planning to create communal disturbance in Nandigram and policemen from BJP-ruled states were “terrorizing” voters and “distributing money from the PM Cares fund.”
A long resistance against the erstwhile Marxist government’s futile bid to acquire farmland for a chemical hub helped Banerjee 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.
During the campaign, Adhikari claimed it was he who stayed with the agitators while Banerjee made occasional trips from Kolkata. Banerjee told voters that Adhikari was lying. She even alleged that Adhikari and his father had a role in the killing of the 14 villagers on March 14, 2007. Her statement triggered a fresh debate with Adhikari questioning the TMC chief’s decision to induct retired police officer Satyajit Bandopadhyay who was among the officers sent to Nandigram on the day the villagers were killed.
For Adhikari, a son of the soil, the election was an acid test. His brother
Dibyendu, the TMC Lok Sabha member from Tamluk, was seen at BJP rallies. 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.