The village folk of Birulia in West Bengal’s high-profile Nandigram constituency meet under a banyan tree every day and decide on the next day’s programme. In 2013, all the eight panchayat members of Birulia, the largest village panchayat of Nandigram , had been from the Left but were not allowed to function. In fact, after 2018, the only non-Trinamool Congress (TMC) member of the panchayat, Nantu Guchait, who was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], won with the tree symbol; the conditions were such that Guchait’s life was at risk if he fought on a CPI(M) symbol of a hammer, sickle and a star.
During the heated campaign for the upcoming Assembly polls, when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was injured in Birulai Bazaar on March 10, she spoke of conspiracies being hatched against her in an area where the presence of opposition party sympathisers is known.
Banerjee is pitted against former TMC leader Suvendu Adhikari in the Nandigram constituency after the latter crossed over to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This has made Nandigram an epicentre of the political slugfest between TMC and BJP. Amid all this, Left seems to be regaining support on ground in its former bastion ahead.
Battle for Nandigram
Ashok Jana, a septuagenarian fishnet weaver, told NewsClick about his communist past when he used to secretly sent information to CPI(M) central committee member Rabin Deb.
Biluria’s sole panchayat member, Nantu Guchait from Guchait Para still swears allegiance to CPI(M) irrespective of the huge odds at play in Nandigram.
During her election campaign, Minakshi Mukherjee, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) state president and Left candidate from Nandigram, has reached out to the people of Birulia Bazaar, the panchayat area, and the interior areas. This was the first time after 2011 that Birulia saw CPI(M) cadres march with red flags and an array of slogans highlighting the Central and state governments’ failures. This is because, Left supporters and cadres had been barred from entering their villages by TMC supporters.
This time round, things are different. During the campaign, Biswajit Guchait from Guchait Para, introduced his seven-month-old daughter to Mukherjee, whom he sees as the ultimate fighter. He told Mukherjee to hold his baby in in her arms and bless her so that his daughter can study and be a communist like Mukherjee, say her campaign managers.
Jagadananda Das, a local who alleged he was threatened by some people that he would be thrown into fire for being a Left supporter on March 22, 2016, after being forcibly taken to a brick kiln in Khodambari area, told NewsClick that he still clings to the red flag.
Mukerjee’s campaign team said support was pouring in, claiming that this was despite East Medinipur district seeing 65 Left members and supporters being killed since 2007, the latest being Debkumar Bhuniya in 2020.
On Mukherjee’s campaign trail in Birulia Bazaar area, a retired headmaster, Amal Jana, claimed that people in Nandigram, especially Birulia, were shocked by the CM’s comments attributing the accident to a “deliberate” design to cause injury to her. “This is an injury to the people of Birulia who are deeply hurt due to this false allegation,” Jana said in public meeting.
Nandigram is set to vote on April 1 while nearby Khejuri is set to vote on March 27.
Nandigram Tension Spills Into Khejuri
The CPI(M) has fielded Himangshu Das from Khejuri, the TMC has fielded Partha Pratim Das and the BJP has given the ticket to Shantanu Pramanik. Speaking with NewsClick, Himangshu Das said position of CPI(M) had improved a lot in recent years after his release from jail . “Most CPI(M) activists here have been slapped with false charges and were put in jail when Suvendu Adhikari’s (former TMC and current BJP leader) clout was in the prime. Now we have 550 party members, a host of auxiliary groups and mass organisation members in Khejuri, unlike in the first years of this decade,” he said.
Swadeshranjan Paria, a resident of Kalagachia village in Khejuri, highlighted the issue corruption citing the example of his dilapidated house, for which a scheme was approved in the past. However, out of the fixed Rs 1 lakh under the Indira Awas Yojana, he alleged that he only got Rs 35,000 while the rest was siphoned away, adding that this was the state of affairs under the Mamata Banerjee and Suvendu Adhikari administration in the Nanndigram-Khejuri belt.
“A single revolt against anything would be disastrous not only for the person but for his entire family,” Paria recalled, adding that after the spat between Banerjee and Adhikari, and the latter joining BJP, there discontent is oozing out of everywhere. But, like the proverb ‘once bitten twice shy’, the residents of Nandigram and Khejuri are treading carefully, he said. Amid high political tension, only time will tell whether elusive peace will return to Nandigram and Khejuri.
Left’s Renewed Fight in West Medinipur
A few months ago, many of those who had been “warriors” of the ruling TMC and were acquiring substantial wealth, changed their political allegiance to BJP as the sensed the political wind changing. “In reality, it is TMC vs ex-Trinamool who are competing against each other in hooliganism in West Medinipur’s vast tract of Jangalmahal,” said former three-time MLA from Chandrakona, Gurupada Dutta, while speaking to NewsClick.
In July 2018, septuagenarian Dutta, a former high school teacher, was beaten up for not leaving CPI(M) amid all adversities. He alleged that some of his tormentors were now in BJP while some others were with the ruling TMC. However, Dutta, as a leader of the Left in West Medinipur’s Chandrakona, which borders Jangalmahal, has been defending attacks against his party all this while.
The Chandrakona Road assembly segment this year is seeing a contest between Sanjukta Morcha (Left Front alliance with Congress and Indian Secular Front) partner ISF, whose candidate Gouranga Das is pitted against Arup Dhara of TMC and Sibnath Das of BJP.
The mainstay of Gouranga Das has been the open support to him from CPI(M). In his road show on March 19, a group of about 40 youth Left activists moved with the candidate holding on to their red flags. In Ghatal Assembly segment in West Medinipur, the fight is between Sanjukta Morcha candidate Kamal Dolui and TMC’s incumbent MLA Shankar Dolui for the April 1 election. BJP’s Shital Kopat is also in the fray here.