UPDATED: April 1, 2021 13:44 IST
Nandigram, one of the 30 seats where voting is taking place in West Bengal on Thursday, has become the epicentre of the electoral contest not only in the second phase of polls but of all Assembly elections. While stakes are high for BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has practically risked her political future by challenging her party’s former heavyweight in this constituency.
If Suvendu Adhikari defeats Mamata Banerjee at Nandigram, the result could see her Trinamool Congress going the same way as the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) went in Bengal after electoral loss in 2011. Today, there is no TMC without Mamata Banerjee as a leader of the masses.
Even if TMC wins the Bengal polls and Suvendu Adhikari grabs the Nandigram seat, it will be very difficult for Mamata Banerjee to return as chief minister with the same political authority she has wielded in the past 10 years. Clearly, Nandigram is voting to decide Mamata Banerjee’s political future in Bengal.
How Nandigram Has Voted In Past
Nandigram was a Left bastion for decades with occasional Congress tilt. In the first Assembly election held in 1951, when Nandigram had two assembly constituencies — North and South, the Congress won both.
The Congress shared Nandigram with the CPI in 1957, with the latter winning the South constituency. In 1962, Congress won both seats.
The present Nandigram constituency came into being in 1967, with CPI winning this seat. The CPI went on to win this seat seven more times till the 2006 Bengal Assembly polls.
In between, the Congress won the Nandigram seat two times — 1969 and 1996 — and the Janata Party won the seat in 1977 when the JP Movement uprooted the Congress from several states.
Nandigram At Crossroads
The Trinamool Congress won the Nandigram seat in 2009 Assembly bypolls, when Firoja Bibi defeated Mohammed Illyas of the CPI. Illyas had to resign after he was caught on camera taking money from an NGO (non-governmental organisation) in a sting operation.
Illyas’s son Sheikh Saddam Hossain is contesting from Nandigram as an Independent candidate in the ongoing West Bengal Assembly election. He was a member of the CPI but quit recently. Minakshi Mukherjee of the CPI-M is the Left-Congress-ISF (Indian Secular Front) coalition candidate in Nandigram.
Incidentally, the journalist who conducted the sting operation — Shanku Deb Panda — recently joined the BJP, switching over from the TMC.
The TMC has retained the Nandigram seat since 2009. Firoja Bibi won it again in 2011 when the Mamata Banerjee-led government was formed in Bengal. In 2016, Suvendu Adhikari — the local face of 2007-08 Nandigram agitation — won the Nandigram seat for the TMC.
In December 2020, Suvendu Adhikari switched over to the BJP reportedly following differences with Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee. Suvendu Adhikari felt he was being sidelined in the party as Mamata Banerjee gave more authority to Abhishek Banerjee in deciding the party matters.
Now, it is a battle between the general and her former lieutenant at Nandigram — Kurukshetra of Bengal’s electoral Mahabharata.