Mamata to contest the seat, directly challenging her once protégé, now detractor Suvendu Adhikari, who currently holds it
West Bengal is tipped to be the most fiercely contested Assembly election in the current set of States – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and the Union Territory of Puducherry – that will go to the polls early this year, and Nandigram is emerging as the set piece that will define that contest.
Nandigram, the site of the agitation by locals against land acquisition by the then Left Front government in 2008-09 and which propelled the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) to power in 2011 and 2026, is poised to play a central role again. This is the seat Ms. Banerjee has decided to contest, directly challenging her once protégé, now detractor Suvendu Adhikari, who currently holds the seat.
Mr. Adhikari, his father and brother gained prominence in the area and indeed entire Medinipur during the Nandigram agitation and opposition to land acquisition, a movement politically helmed by Ms. Banerjee. They are local worthies and influence in Midnapore , an area (east and west included) that has approximately 20 Assembly seats.
Mr. Adhikari switching to the BJP has created a problem for the TMC, which the party hopes, will be resolved by Ms. Banerjee throwing her hat in the ring from that seat.
“It’s a master stroke, in not just making sure Suvendu and his family are restricted to the seat in terms of campaigning but also to incontrovertibly assert ownership on the Nandigram and Singur movement. Whatever Suvendu did as a part of the movement was due to the leadership of Mamatadi, the party and its symbol,” said a senior leader.
Former Union Minister and TMC MP Dinesh Trivedi termed the move “a demonstration of the fact” that “Ms. Banerjee has the pulse of the people.”
Desperate move: BJP
While the optimism in the TMC on the move to Nandigram is understandable, the BJP is having none of it. “If you see Mamata Banerjee’s margin of victory from Bhabhanipur in 2016 [25,000] and the TMC margin in the seat during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls , there is a genuine fear in the TMC that the seat is dicey. Her decision to fight from Nandigram, therefore, is a desperate move,” said BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijaywargiya, who is in charge of the party’s affairs in the State.
“If the party fields Suvendu [Adhikari] from Nandigram, he will win,” he added.
The seat is, according to local leaders, going to see a communally polarised campaign in the coming days. According to the latest electoral rolls finalised for the seat, it has 62,000 minority voters out of a total of 2.75 lakh. “Already speeches in meetings etc are veering towards that rhetoric,” said a local leader of the TMC. After playing kingmaker in the 2011 Assembly polls tooling a nearly four-decade-old rule of the Left Front, Nandigram is poised to influence history again.