Chants, ‘gaddar’, outsider barbs smeared the high decibel fight by political heavyweights
After three months of a relentless, high-pitch campaign by both West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) candidate Suvendu Adhikari, who switched to the party months before the election, a polarised Nandigram will cast its vote on April 1. During the campaign, slogans veered around Nandigram with Ms. Banerjee rhyming it with “sangram” (struggle) and Mr. Adhikari choosing “Jai Shri Ram”. Another pitch of the campaign revolved around the TMC labelling Mr. Adhikari as a “gaddar” (traitor) and “Mir Jafar” and the BJP leader propping himself up as a “bhoomiputra” (son of the soil).
The campaign began with Ms. Banerjee announcing in January that she would contest from Nandigram, which had seen a fierce anti-land acquisition movement in 2007-08 during the Left Front regime. The BJP fielded Mr. Adhikari, whose family has nurtured the Purba Medinipur constituency as a TMC member. “We have not seen such a big campaign ever,” said a group of women waiting for Home Minister Amit Shah’s road show on the last day of campaigning. Two of the women, wearing saris in BJP colours, one from the Left parties and another from TMC, had switched over to the BJP in January after Mr. Adhikari joined the party. Echoing the sentiment among a section of the people, Shibani Das said, “Didi is spending days here at Nandigram now but she couldn’t spare hours for us earlier. It is not as if she has not done work as Chief Minister.”
A few kilometers away, at Ms. Banerjee’s rally, Rajkumar Jana spoke up for thousands of others who listened to the TMC supremo’s words silently: “It is 100% Didi. Suvendu is a traitor.” Ms. Banerjee appeared to strike a chord with the people whenever she referred to Mr. Adhikari as “gaddar”. She had launched her campaign on a low key on March 9 when, amid religious chants of “chandi path”, she promised to make Nandigram a model constituency. The very next day, as she made a round of the temples, competing with the BJP, she suffered a leg injury and had to rush back to a Kolkata hospital.
Ms. Banerjee has been stationed at Nandigram from the last week of March, her leg still in a plaster, addressing at least three public meetings a day and occasional roadshows from a wheelchair. The BJP, on its part, left no stone unturned by bringing in heavyweights for campaigning, including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and new party member and actor Mithun Chakraborty. Nandigram also found mention in the Prime Minister’s rally at Kanthi in the same district on March 24.
As the campaign evolved, the TMC found itself defending the “outsider” barb directed at Ms. Banerjee, who left her home constituency Bhawanipore to contest from Nandigram. The TMC had called the BJP a party of outsiders who were trying to impose themselves on the State. “I am the Chief Minister of the State. How dare you call me an outsider? Who are you? I am the bhoomikanya (daughter of the soil),” Ms. Banerjee, said, referring to the fact that even Mr. Adhikari, a TMC MLA for the past five years, was from Kanthi.
Also read: All eyes on Nandigram in second phase
In the battle of political titans, the Left has sprung a surprise by fielding young DYFI (Democratic Youth Federation of India) leader Minakshi Mukherjee who has been running an earnest door-to-door campaign raising the issue of livelihood and jobs.
As the most high-profile constituency goes to polls, it will be a litmus test for the Election Commission of India (EC) as well. The EC has deployed 22 companies of Central forces for an electorate of 2.6 lakh. Administrative reshuffles continued till polling day with the EC transferring the Circle Inspector of Mahishadal and the Sub-Divisional Police Officer of Haldia, all in Purba Medinipur constituency. With both sides trading charges of voter manipulation and electoral malpractices, there are fears of violence in Nandigram.
A lot has changed in Nandigram since the land stir in 2007 when 14 people were killed in police firing. Nandigram then was a symbol of “sangram”. New concrete roads have been laid, new shops have opened in the constituency 130 km from Kolkata, but the electorate is under a lot of pressure to choose between the “bhoomikanya” and the “bhoomiputra”.