Nandigram in the Purbo district of Medinipur once catapulted Mamata Banerjee to power. Fourteen years later, Nandigram sets his battle to return to power for the third time. However, there the similarity ends. The land acquisition turmoil of 2007 is old news, Nandigram now resonates with the strong polarization that marks the bitter Trinamool-BJP battle for Bengal.
Mamata upped the ante by declaring her seat candidacy, directly opposing Suvendu Adhikari, one of BJP’s biggest acquisitions from Trinamool. Adhikari was not only the face of Trinamool in Nandigram, he was also the face of the party’s land protest on the ground.
Mamata towers over Nandigram in graffiti, cutouts and billboards stating “Bangla Nijer Meyeke Chai (Bengal wants his daughter)”. But the BJP flags are scrambling for space. In addition to the crowd is Furfura clerk Sharif Abbas Siddiqui, who has demanded the seat of his Indian Secular Front party in its alliance with the left and Congress. With a significant proportion of Nandigram Muslim’s population, Siddiqui takes Mamata’s queer discourse one step further.
At a rally in Hooghly on January 21, Adhikari said, “They (the Trinamool) have 62,000 voices (in Nandigram), but I have the support of 2.13 lakh people singing Jai Shri Ram.”
Won by the Trinamool in a 2009 bypoll, the seat of the Nandigram Assembly has since been with the party – Adhikari won it in 2016 by 81,230 votes. Before that, it was a Congress and then a stronghold of the IPC. In 2019, the Tamluk Lok Sabha seat was won by Adhikari’s brother Dibyendu, but the BJP came in second, securing over 60,000 votes in the Nandigram segment. Dibyendu is also with the BJP now.
The Trinamool campaign for the Assembly seat is being carried out from a two-story house in the Tarachand Bar area of Nandigram Block 1. Sitting in a room covered with photos of Mamata, the Trinamool district vice president, Sheikh Sufian, said not to worry. “The BJP is trying to draw communal lines in the headquarters of Nandigram. But they will not succeed. Mamata Banerjee will win by an overwhelming majority… Suvendu Adhikari has committed a political blunder, ”said Sufian, 60, adding that the BJP would struggle to even put officers in 100 of the 355 voting booths.
As head of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), Sufian led the movement against the leftist government’s plan to acquire land for a SEZ in 2007. He says it was the leader of Trinamool who did so. made the world aware of the “fate” of Nandigram and brought development to the region. In recent years, concrete roads, proper drains, a super-specialized hospital, a drinking water project, plans for a ferry to Haldia and a bus terminus have come to Nandigram.
About Siddiqui, Sufian says, “Muslims here are not fools, and Siddiqui has no acceptance.”
About 2 km from Sufian’s house, a BUPC comrade, Meghnad Pal, says he now has security with him 24X7, since he left the Trinamool for the BJP. Meeting the Indian Express in a room showing CCTV footage of the outside – provided its location is not disclosed – former BJP chairman Nandigram Block 1 said the Trinamool had sent goons to pursue him.
“I wrote to the Union Home Minister (Amit Shah) for security coverage. In Muslim strongholds like Kendamari, Daudpur, Samsabad, our workers are not allowed to campaign, ”says Pal, 62, warning that Trinamool rulers can expect the same treatment in Hindu regions.
According to Pal, the BJP will do well in the Hindu-dominated areas of the Nandigram 2 bloc. “Nandigram 1 has around 34% of Muslim voters, while Nandigram 2 has only 10%… The BJP will win by 70 000 votes. ” The party has yet to announce its seat candidate.
Debangshu Maity, the BJP co-organizer for Nandigram, says the region has experienced massive corruption after Cyclone Amphan in May of last year. “The leaders of Trinamool panchayat have usurped money intended for the poor. Do you think people will forget this? “
About 4 km away, in the village of Gopimohanpur near Chowringhee, Abu Taher also lives in Category Y security provided by the state government. Also part of the BUPC and now secretary general of the Trinamool district, Taher says the 2007 unrest was a people’s struggle. “The people of Nandigram have lost their loved ones. Suvendu Adhikari came later.
Taher points out that the BJP’s polarization tactics will not work. “Hindus and Muslims celebrate their festivals together in Nandigram. They waved together in 2007. ”
However, it’s hard to escape the tension in the air, especially in the muted tones in predominantly Muslim areas. “We are in shock at the arrival of Suvendu Adhikari at BJP. The BJP is a municipal party, how to vote for it? Said Sheikh Taslim, a coconut vendor standing at the corner of Debipur School, adding that he was happy that Mamata chose to participate in Nandigram. “She will surely win.”
Sheikh Zulfikar, who grows shrimp on 35 bighas of land rented from Kendamari, says they worshiped Adhikari. “Then he joined the BJP and started making statements against Muslims… Everyone in our village and its surroundings will vote for Mamata Banerjee. She will get all the Muslim votes as well as the votes of women in the homes of BJP supporters, ”said Zulfiqar, who said her days of turmoil in 2007 were far behind him.
In Sonachura, Ramen Gosain, a small farmer, says their support goes to Adhikari, regardless of the party. “Around 2016, the BJP started working here. But still a majority of us were with the Trinamool. But after Suvendu babu has joined the BJP, the party is our choice, ”says Gosain.
His compatriot Haripada Samanta, standing next to Gosain, says the Trinamool has only himself to blame. “After Amphan, Suvendu babu suspended many panchayat members and made some of them return the money they had taken. After going to BJP, these people are back with Trinamool.
As we venture towards Nandigram Block 2, the presence of BJP becomes more marked.
In Berulia Market, a two-story building adorned with photos of Lord Ram, Ganesha and “Bharat Mata” is the oldest BJP office in the region. District Party Vice Chairman Pralay Pal, 42, said the Adhikari crossover boosted their confidence. Pal adds, “There are around 62,000 Muslim votes out of a total of around 2.75 lakh. The consolidation will therefore be there … A part of the Muslims will also vote for us.
Sabita Jana admits there is “confusion”. Standing not far from the BJP office, the mother of two, whose husband works as a carpenter, declares: “On the one hand, Suvendu babu whom we admire, on the other, Mamata Banerjee, whom we also love. I am not the only one, many are confused.
A fruit stall owner at Chowringhee Market in Block 1, who refuses to give his name, said a surprise would have been brewing on results day of May 2, just like in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections , when the BJP won 18 seats. “We are quiet now. But when the time comes, we’ll vote for, you know, which party.