Nandigram: The Nandigram Assembly seat has become the epicentre of the poll battle in West Bengal, with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress (TMC) facing her aide-turned-enemy Suvendu Adhikari, who switched over to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Left Front’s firebrand youth leader, Minakshi Mukherjee in the fray.
Even as the media is trying to push a binary narrative, the 1984-born ‘Young Turk’ Mukherjee seems to be giving some sleepless nights to both Banerjee and Adhikari with her relentless campaign on the ground. Notably, till 2011 Nandigram had elected a Left MLA.
A look around, with red flags once again fluttering away in the area, drills holes into Adhikari’s claim, as TMC leader, that “no red flags will be left in Nandigram.”
On Thursday, after 10 years, one managed to reach inaccessible areas such as Sonachura Bazaa, Tekhali , Garchakraberia, Southakhali and Kalicharanpur. In fact, many people this correspondent spoke to said some former stalwarts of the Bhumi Ucched Protirodh Committee (that spearheaded the campaign against the Left Front in Nandigram in 2011 on the issue of land acquisition) have now pledged their support to Mukherjee, and have accused Adhikari of buying about5 bighas of land in Sonachura Bazaar area worth over Rs 5 crore at a throwaway price.
Local residents also alleged that all this land had been purchased in the name of “martyrs” of Nandigram but has now been diverted for businesses of the influential Adhikari family.
“It takes determination to hold aloft the red flag,” said Sunita Das, a frail-looking 20-something girl, who has been campaigning for Mukherjee. Mahadeb Bhuniya, 30,one of the key campaigners of the Left candidate says he has not gone home for many days now, as it still falls under the “terror zone” (areas that were out of bounds for Left supporters for fear of violence after the TMC came to power in 2011).
Mukherjee, a popular face of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) in the area, toldNewsClick: “Wherever I am going, I am getting a huge response.” Some of her supporters also said that she was the “fittest candidate”amongst the bigwigs and was like a “bout of fresh air”.
Fatima Bibi, 65, hugged Mukherjee, and wished her success. The response from minority section has been overwhelming, say some local residents, adding that Muslim minorities are now realising that TMC has “cheated” them and BJP is communal, which is why they see “red flag bearers” as those who will fight to protect their rights.
The sharp divide
It is known that one of the main reasons that the Left Front faced an electoral debacle in 2011 was its handling of land acquisition in Nandigram. Yet, the LF managed to get over 26% votes wherever election was marginally free and fair, said Debasish Mondal, one of the leaders of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee, who is a hardware businessman by profession.
“Even some years ago, our mainstay was cultivation,” said Mondal, adding that his brother was one of first martyrs of the land movement. However, Mondal said he wanted Nandigram to be “free and peaceful”, something that has eluded the people of the region in the past 10 years.
Distrustfully looking at a BJP flag with Suvendu Adhikar’s face printed on it, Mondal said: “What has happened in Nandigram after 2011 is incomparable. All that happened was on the orders of Suvendu Adhikari, a TMC aide-de-camp to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Now they have separated and are fighting each other. The only positivity in this is that their terror grip has loose end a bit on the area.”
On March 18, while a Left campaign was underway in Sonachura and Garchakraberia,violence broke out between BJP and TMC supporters, leaving persons on both sides injured, some of them seriously. However, an undeterred Mukherjee and her team went deep inside the villages to chat with villagers and visit their homes.
“We are telling them that if you bring BJP or TMC to power, the mainstay in Nandigram once again will be violence,” she said.
As per reports,the TMC-BJP tussle gained a communal hue, as has been the case in many places in West Bengal.
Amalendu Das, 70, sitting with his nephews at Chak Kalicharanpur, told NewsClick that the law and order situation in Nandigram for the past 10 years has been “deplorable”.He said some of his nephews had gone over to BJP’s side as the TMC “used minority community people in that area as their henchman”. He, however, said that this time, the SC/ST booth“will vote for the Left.”
In Samsabad of Kalicharanpur,the conditions of roads was pathetic, as these were devoid of any concrete or asphalt or brick-layered. When this correspondent asked around, local people said that the road was last laid when there wasa proper elected panchayat during LF rule. “After 2011, there has not been any election but selection,” they said.
After a long time, the area saw a street corner meeting being held in the evening at Tekhali Bazaar, organised by Communist Party of India (Marxist). It was addressed by CPI(M) Central Committee member Rabin Deb and by Minakshi Mukherjee.The large number of youth present in the meeting was an indication of the Left’s resurgence in this heavy weight Assembly constituency and Mukerjee’s support base growing among the youth, who are also playing a big role in her campaign.