Mamata Banerjee has announced that she will contest elections from Nandigram, bastion of her former aide Suvendu Adhikari who crossed over to BJP recently.
Sunvendu has accepted the challenge. "If I can't defeat her by half lakh votes, I will quit politics," he declared in Kolkata. Both of them were campaigning in each other’s turf when this dramatic announcement was made.
Suvendu had won the Nandigram seat in 2016 assembly elections by 81,230 votes, the fourth highest victory margin in the state.
On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee is a two time MLA from Bhowanipore. She won by over 95,000 votes in 2011. Her victory margin was reduced to 25,000 in the 2016 elections.
“I have always started my campaign for the assembly polls from Nandigram. It is a lucky place for me. So this time, I feel that I should contest the assembly polls from here. I would request our state party president Subrata Bakshi to approve my name from this seat,” Banerjee said at a rally in Nandigram.
She indicated that she may contest from both constituencies, "Nandigram is my big sister, Bhowanipore is my younger sister... I will fight from both if possible. In case I am unable to contest from Bhowanipore, someone else would contest."
In 2007, 14 were killed in clashes in Nandigram between protesting farmers and the police. In the 2011 election, Mamata crafted her election campaign "Ma, Maati, Manush" around that incident.
TMC’s campaign to protect farmers' land from a proposed SEZ project in Nandiram powered her campaign in the 2011 assembly election. She won by a landslide, dislodging the 34 year old Left Front government.
Suvendu Adhikari is regarded as one of the key architects of Mamata Banerjee's victory in 2011. Mamata had led the agitation in Nandigram following an attack by then ruling CPM workers on her party members on November 25, 2007.
Suvendu Adhikari and his family played a key role in organizing this agitation in the Purba Medinipur district which catapulted her to victory.
By taking the battle to Suvendu’s turf, Mamata has caught him and BJP by surprise. She has in a way accepted the challenge of Suvendu. Through this announcement Mamata is trying to prove that she is a bigger leader than Suvendu even in his backyard.
She has made Suvendu and not vice versa. This will tie down Suvendu to Nandigram limiting his campaign across the state. If he contests from one more seat it will show his nervousness, A loss against Mamata could deprive him of the Deputy Chief Minister post if BJP wins the state and finishes his career.
Through this Mamata is also sending a signal to those who have left the party or making up their mind to do so, that they cannot be allowed a free run, and she will give them a run for their money. She will go the extra mile to ensure their defeat.
On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party is portraying it as nervousness on Mamata’s part. The contest in Bhowanipore is getting closer. Her victory margin reduced by 70,000 votes in 2016. She mainly won due to the split of votes between Congress and BJP. Both together got more votes than Mamata.
The BJP was leading in the assembly segment in the 2019 general elections by 176 votes. BJP dented TMC foothold in Kolkata Municipal Corporation. TMC recently lost 2 municipal wards in Bhowanipore assembly segment. It was becoming a tricky seat. She had won in 2011 primarily through Congress support. It couldn’t be called a safe seat anymore.
“Mamata Banerjee has lost her support in Bhowanipore and she being an astute politician understands that. Mamata is making a political gimmick,” said Babul Supriyo, MOS Environment, Forest & Climate, on The NewsHour Debate on Times Now.
“Suvendu Adhikari is not such a canny politician who can win on his own. He is quite capable of ‘losing’ elections,” said Saugata Roy, MP TMC, on The NewsHour Debate on Times Now. He claimed Mamata will still win by 50,000 votes from Bhowanipore.
An ABP-CVoter opinion poll predicts a simple majority for TMC. TMC is expected to bag 158 seats, BJP 102 seats and Left-Congress Mahajot 28 seats. We have seen in the past that the earlier surveys can go wrong like in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Bihar.
A close and interesting battle on the cards in Bengal. Stay tuned…..