Mamata may face ex-close aide in high octane battle


Kolkata, March 4 : With the stage set for a battle royale in West Bengal, all eyes are fixed on East Midnapore’s Nandigram Assembly constituency as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had announced that she would contest from there in the forthcoming polls.

Nandigram is a stronghold of newly-inducted BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari, who was elected on a Trinamool ticket from the high profile seat in 2016 and became a minister in the Mamata Banerjee-led state Cabinet.

The saffron camp is likely to announce the names of its candidates for the first two phases of the high-voltage Bengal Assembly polls later on Thursday. West Bengal will go to the polls in eight phases between March 27 and April 29. Counting of votes will take place on May 2.

It is widely acknowledged that the anti-farmland acquisition movement in Nandigram had galvanised public opinion in favour of Banerjee when she was in the opposition. She could overthrow the CPI-M-led Left Front government in Bengal following a prolonged protest against the proposed chemical hub SEZ project there in 2007.

The police firing that had killed at least 13 villagers, including women, had rocked the state, grabbing headlines in the international media. In the 2016 state Assembly elections, the Trinamool Congress had secured about 67 per cent votes in Nandigram, while the BJP got only around 5 per cent.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had made deep inroads in the local vote bank there, winning around 30 per cent of the votes in Nandigram, making a significant dent into the once Trinamool bastion in East Midnapore district.

Meanwhile, the BJP’s core committee met on Wednesday and discussed the candidates for the first and second phase of the elections in Bengal. The party’s Central Election Committee (CEC), that takes the final call on who will contest from which constituency, is supposed to finalise the candidates’ list for 60 Assembly seats that will go to the polls in the first two phases on Thursday night.

Adhikari’s name is doing the rounds for the Nandigram seat which he had won in 2016. He was the legislator from the constituency before resigning from Trinamool Congress and joining the saffron brigade in December last year.

Trinamool Congress supremo Banerjee had also declared that she would contest from Nandigram this time. The Trinamool chief is likely to file her nomination for Nandigram on March 10. A house has also been taken on rent in Nandigram by the party for Banerjee, sources said.

“I will contest from Nandigram. It is my lucky place,” Banerjee had declared at a rally in Nandigram in January this year. Quite naturally, the Nandigram Assembly seat has turned out to be the centre of attraction for the voters of Bengal ahead of the high octane political battle.

Nandigram will go to polls in the second phase. Now one must wait and see if the BJP fields Adhikari from there.

On Tuesday, the police had carried out a sudden raid at a factory and recovered some unfinished improvised firearms from Hossainpur in Nandigram Block-1. The incident sparked tension in the area as BJP state unit chief Dilip Ghosh pointed fingers at the ruling Trinamool Congress for being involved in the incident. Two persons were arrested in connection with the case, the police said.

“A few days back, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had declared that she would contest from Nandigram. Now arms factories are being busted there at the residence of Sheikh Rukumuddin. Is it just a coincidence,” Ghosh asked.

He also pointed out that Trinamool Congress is trying take the oath of violence as the party knows it will not be able to win from Nandigram democratically.

Sisir Adhikari, veteran Trinamool leader and father of Suvendu Adhikari, seems to have become inactive in the region ever since his elder son joined the saffron camp.

According to Trinamool insiders, senior Adhikari taking a political backstage on health grounds will impact the ruling party’s electoral fate in the forthcoming battle.

The saffron party has emerged as Trinamool’s main rival by winning 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal in the 2019 general elections. With the BJP’s strength increasing in the state in the last few years, its leaders are upbeat that the party will end Banerjee’s 10-year rule in the sate.