West Bengal Elections: All eyes on Nandigram as Mamata Banerjee takes on former protégé Suvendu

Nandigram helped Mamata end the 34-year rule of the Left in West Bengal. Ten years later, could the town end Mamata’s reign or begin something new?
Suvendhu Adhikari and Mamata Banerjee
Suvendhu Adhikari and Mamata Banerjee

The run-up to the West Bengal Assembly election is grabbing eyeballs across the country. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC) are going in with all guns blazing ahead of the eight-phase election. While the country is closely monitoring the events taking place in Bengal, all eyes, however, will be on Nandigram – a census town in Bengal.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced on Monday that she would fight the upcoming elections from Nandigram. The announcement took many by surprise as Mamata is giving up on the Bhowanipore seat where she is currently the MLA. What led to Mamata’s decision to contest from Nandigram?

Nandigram is the town that helped Mamata end the 34-year rule of the Left in West Bengal. After the 2007 firing that killed 14 villagers who were protesting against the Communist West Bengal government’s decision to establish a chemical hub at the Nandigram special economic zone (SEZ). The land was owned by the farmers of Nandigram. There was a strong electoral response after the incident that helped the TMC win 35 of 53 seats in the East Midnapore Zilla Parishad. This had a ripple effect as in the 2011 Assembly elections, the Left government lost power in the state after 34 years and the reign of Mamata’s TMC began.

Fast forward 10 years later, Mamata returns to Nandigram to take on her once protégé, now rival Suvendu Adhikari. Suvendu was one of the first TMC leaders to join the BJP months ahead of the upcoming election and, this led to a domino effect with several MLAs and MPs joining the BJP. Reportedly, Suvendu also played a major role in the Nandigram agitation. The former West Bengal Transport Minister had challenged the TMC saying that he would bring BJP to victory in at least 35 constituencies. According to reports, many political analysts pointed out that Mamata has taken a calculative move to cut down her loss in East and West Midnapore districts and put pressure on Suvendu to deliver.

Although Suvendu alleged that Mamata would lose by 50,000 votes in Nandigram, there is indeed pressure on him to deliver. Meanwhile, the BJP has claimed that Mamata is desperate and frustrated. BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said that Mamata is running away from Kolkata to fight a BJP leader and is making Suvendu significant. The BJP is confident that Suvendu will win in Nandigram, however, the TMC is confident that Mamata would stop her former protégé. “I am overwhelmed, this is her masterstroke. Let the BJP now face her (Mamata Banerjee) in Nandigram. She will stop Suvendu and motivate our workers there,” said TMC MP Sougata Roy.

While Suvendu has launched several personal attacks on Mamata, the latter has ignored her former protégé and instead attacked the BJP’s central leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Mamata even issued a challenge to the Prime Minister stating, “Khela hobe! I am ready to play one-on-one. If the BJP wants to buy votes, take the money and cast your vote for TMC.”

The stakes of the West Bengal election is higher for TMC and BJP. While TMC is fighting for survival, on the other hand, BJP is trying to solidify its footprint in the East. BJP has never been in power in West Bengal since the state has seen the regimes of the Indian National Congress, the Left and the TMC.

Nandigram will be the central focus of the West Bengal Assembly election starting on March 27. The victory of one candidate could probably decide the fate of the other.

The NationWide