By Uday Basu
The second phase polling in West Bengal on April 1 will witness in Nandigram the mother of all electoral battles of the eight-phase polls in the state. Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee is pitted against her one-time lieutenant and state minister, but now bête noire Subhendu Adhikari of the BJP in this constituency. The stakes are so high for the Trinamool that Mamata Banerjee has dropped a veritable bombshell to blow her rival into pieces, as it were. It may also prove suicidal for her.
In a shocking revelation she alleged during campaign that it was Subhendu and not the police who was responsible for the heinous killings of 14 villagers of Nandigram in 2007 at the height of the resistance against the previous Left Front-government’s mega chemical hub project there. The entire poll-bound state is left shell-shocked by the disclosure that such a diabolical plot was hatched by the Trinamool to capture power in 2011 riding the crest of the Nandigram agitation.
In all, 30 constituencies spread across East and West Mindapore, Bankura and South 24 Parganas will go to the polls in this phase.
Subhendu Adhikari was the face of the Nandigram agitation spearheaded by the Trinamool. The resistance against the project through “forcible” acquisition of farmland and the agitation against the Tata Motor’s “Nano” car project in Singur catapulted Mamata Banerjee into power in Bengal in 2011 and she became Chief Minister. The high point of the Nandigram agitation was the killing of 14 villagers in alleged police firing.
The brutal repression of the farmers by the ruling CPI-M and the death of the 14 people shook the conscience of Bengal. Civil society activists came out in support of the Trinamool Congress and the resistance against the state government’s industrialisation overdrive. Then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee categorically stated in the Assembly soon after the firing that his specific instruction to the police was not to open fire on the agitators. But, the incident virtually sealed the fate of the LF-government and its industrialisation policy. It ended its 34-year-long regime in the Assembly election of 2011.
Now, in a chilling turn of history, Mamata Banerjee has accused Subhendu Adhikari and his father Trinamool MP Sisir Adhikari, who has also joined the BJP, of engineering the firing in Nandigram. The police could enter the villages on that fateful day after “clearance from the father and son”, she has alleged. The duo, according to her, planted their men in the crowd donning “police uniform” who fired on the mob that clashed with the police snuffing out 14 lives.
Chief Minister Bhattacharjee was demonised and his claim that the truth about a diabolical plot hatched to topple his government would come out a decade later was rejected with contempt.
Now, Mamata Banerjee’s revelation has spilled the beans of a horror story and a political conspiracy of unimaginable proportions. Subhendu has, of course, declined to rebut the charge and only said the people of Nandigram would fittingly respond to the charge when they will press the buttons on the EVM on April 1.
The question being asked at the height of the 8-phase election campaign is what has prompted Mamata to level such a serious allegation against her main electoral rival when she, having been the driving force behind the agitation, won’t escape the share of the guilt for the crime. The most plausible explanation is that perhaps defeat is staring her in the face and the Trinamool’s political future is in peril. That is why before that happens she wants to destroy Subhendu and the Adhikari clan who are playing a key role in the decimation of the Trinamool.
The election campaign in the state is now revolving around the Trinamool "plot" in Nandigram. It happens at a time when Subhendu Adhikari-led BJP is all set to make a clean sweep in the second phase poll. His control of the Jungle Mahal areas comprising the two Midnapores, Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia, where the first phase polling was held on March 27, is believed to have consolidated the BJP’s position in the 30 seats.
In East Midnapore the Hindus constitute 85.2 per cent of the population of which the SC/ST account for 15.1 per cent and the Muslims’ share is 14.6 per cent. Castes such as the Mahishyas and Ghosh represent the Bhadraloks and they dominate the region. They are expected to rally behind the BJP. In the two Midnapores and Bankura the Subhendu factor will play itself out.
In South 24 Parganas the Muslims’ share of 35.6 per cent of the district’s population will decide the electoral fortunes of the contenders. The Indian Secular Front (ISF) of Pirzada Abbas Siddique of Furfura Sharif, an ally of the Left and the Congress, is likely to dent the Trinamool’s minority vote bank. Alleged rampant corruption by the ruling party in the distribution of relief for the devastating Amphan cyclone has turned a sizable section of the people here hostile against the Trinamool. This may help the BJP reap rich electoral dividends.
The author is a Political Analyst, associated with Peoples Pulse, Political Research Organization.He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org