File images: Suvendu Adhikari (left) and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee
The high-octane poll campaigning for the second phase of the West Bengal Assembly election has concluded and all eyes are now on the battleground Nandigram where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is contesting against her former protege and now a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Suvendu Adhikari.
The small town, located in Purba Medinipur, is set to vote on April 1 along with 29 more constituencies in phase 2 of the West Benga Assembly election. A total of 171 candidates are in the fray in the 30 constituencies that will go for voting in this phase.
In the past few months, Nandigram has seen aggressive poll campaigning, including roadshows, public meetings, fiery speeches, and a bitter war of words between the main rivals - Banerjee and Adhikari.
Nandigram is a politically important seat. The small town was the scene of violent agitation in 2007 against land acquisition by the Left-ruled government for industrial purposes. That violence left 14 dead in a police firing, leading to a mass upsurge against the Marxist rule.
Both Banerjee and Adhikari were prominent figures of the historic anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram that catapulted the firebrand TMC supremo to power in West Bengal in 2011 after ending the 34-year-long rule of the Left Front.
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After a decade, Nandigram has again in the center stage on state elections. However, this time, more than a mere political fight, the battle of Nandigram has turned into a bruising battle for survival where Banerjee's victory could herald the overshadowing of the powerful Adhikari family which has nursed the area for nearly a decade, while Adhikari's victory could pose a question mark on the chief minister's political future and possibly propel him into leading the BJP in Bengal, were it to win the battle of the hustings.
TMC, BJP, and bitter war of words ahead of April 1 voting in Nandigram
The last few days of poll campaigning in Nandigram witnessed fiery speeches roadshows and public meetings by political leaders. While Banerjee campaigned in the constituency for the last four days even during the Holi festival, BJP fielded its ‘big guns’ including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and superstar Mithun Chakraborty to defend Adhikari's turf and take on ‘Didi'.
In a barb aimed at once her own Suvendu Adhikari and his father Sisir Adhikari, Banerjee claimed that the entry of police in Nandigram on March 14, 2007, which had led to the killing of 14 supporters of the anti-farmland acquisition movement, could not have taken place without their knowledge.
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Reacting sharply to Banerjee's charges, Sisir Adhikari said, "She is speaking nonsense as she has understood that she is going to lose in Nandigram."
After Suvendu, his father Sisir, and brother Soumendu Adhikari quit TMC to join BJP.
On the allegations of Banerjee that the Adhikari family had shifted allegiance to BJP to save themselves from being hounded by the central agencies after amassing huge properties in the Kanthi-Digha-Nandigram belt, Sisir said, "We had shifted to BJP after being ill-treated and abused by the TMC leadership for the past several months despite giving our best for the TMC. People of Purba Medinipur (district) will give her a befitting reply."
In reaction to Banerjee’s allegation, Suvendu said, "The TMC supremo is mouthing inanities after seeing the poor turnout in her meetings and becoming certain that she will be defeated by a huge margin in Nandigram.”
After a massive roadshow in the town, Shah called upon people to ensure the defeat of Banerjee. The top BJP leader also slammed the TMC government for its "decade-long misrule" in the state and accused Banerjee of "blocking" central government schemes in the state. He stressed that defeating her from Nandigram would be a precursor to the much-desired change that Bengal had long been waiting for.
He said that he is assured that Adhikari will win Nandigram by a huge margin. Adhikari has vowed to defeat Banerjee by over 50,000 votes in the seat or quit politics.
The third front
Amid the clash of titans between Banerjee and Adhikari, CPI(M) candidate Minakshi Mukherjee is facing a herculean task of regaining her party's lost ground, where the epitaph of the mighty Left regime was written nearly 14 years ago.
Mukherjee, who is fighting the assembly elections on planks of job creation and industrialisation, is pulling all stops to put up a formidable fight against identity politics at play in the constituency.
Heavy security in Nandigram on voting day
Amid the allegations of polarizing voters in Nandigram, the Election Commission (EC) has decided to deploy a 22-personnel quick response team (QRT) on the polling day to ensure a free and fair election, reported news agency PTI citing an EC official.
The Nandigram seat has a total of 355 polling booths and 75 percent of them will have a webcasting facility.
The EC has also constituted a team of officials who will supervise the proceedings in Nandigram on the poll day, he said. "We want to ensure that free and fair polling takes place in Nandigram and for that, we are keeping no stones unturned," the official said.
Twenty-two companies of central forces will also be deployed in Nandigram for the assembly polls. One company of the central forces has 100 personnel. A special team at the Chief Electoral Officer's Office in Kolkata will also monitor the situation in Nandigram, said the official.
Each booth in Nandigram will have a micro observer and for each sector office, there will be eight static surveillance teams, the official elaborated. In fact, keeping in mind the network issues in pockets of the area, the EC has written to the mobile phone operators, urging them to see that such problems do not recur on the polling day, he said.