‘Forgotten’ Nandigram stands divided between its favourite Mamata and Suvendu

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Nandigram (WB): Two large cut-outs of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her protege-turned- rival Suvendu Adhikari adorning opposite sides of the street in Tengua bazar of Nandigram sum up the prevailing political mood of the area which is hogging national limelight following the former’s announcement of her candidature from here.

The obscure Nandigram village that shook the base of mighty Left regime and became a bastion of the TMC 14 years ago, now stands divided between its favourite “Didi and Dada” amid speculations of Banerjee taking on her trusted lieutenant in the anti-land acquisition movement, Suvendu Adhikari.

Though, the BJP is yet to take a call on fielding Suvendu from Nandigram which he represented in the assembly before quitting after joining BJP, the dashing leader has expressed willingness to take on the challenge and defeat Banerjee in the polls.

Many locals in the cradle of change, Nandigram, were feeling ‘disenchanted and forgotten’ and yearning for another change till a few months back.

But, with the announcement of Banerjee’s candidature and Adhikari, a political heavyweight of the region, who had switched over to the BJP vowing to defeat her, has put the entire East Midnapore district,especially Nandigram,on edge.

“The people of Nandigram are not very happy with the TMC and also have grievances against Mamata as she hardly visits Nandigram. Had there been any other candidate of the TMC, the defeat would have been imminent.”

But, there is a section of the people who have a soft corner for the TMC chief.

“We can’t forget the tough days of the movement when she and Suvendu da were our only saviours,” Anisur Mondal, a sharecropper who was part of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), said.

Mondal’s views were echoed by local BJP leader Sabuj Pradhan,who agreed that Banerjee’s poll announcement is likely to change the social-political equations on the ground level.

“Till last month the situation in Nandigram was not in favour of the TMC. It will be a divided house if both Mamata Banerjee and Suvendu Adhikari contest from Nandigram assembly.

“If one of them pull out from the contest, the elections will swing easily the other way,” Pradhan, a former Congress leader and part of BUPC,who had recently joined the BJP, said.

Banerjee and Adhikari were heroes of the Nandigram movement.

The feisty TMC boss was its guiding spirit, while Adhikari was her general on the ground, holding protests against the SEZ where Indonesia’s Salim group wanted to set up a chemical hub.

But, after Adhikari jumped the ship, several villages overnight switched sides, and the rival camps took over party offices.

Even as Gokulpur, Gokulnagar, Gopimohanpur, Adhikaripari, Heria have turned into strongholds of Adhikari, Sonachura, Haripur, Khejuri, Brindaban Chak, Daudpur, Tekhali remains bastion of the TMC.

Sixty-year old Kanchan Mal of Gokulpur village, who was injured during the agitation and her house was set on fire, said despite the anger against the TMC, “both Mamata di and Suvendu babu are like son and daughter of Nandigram. It will be a tough choice for us.”

“Both of them had come to my mud house during 2007-08. Although Didi never came after she became the Chief Minister, Suvendu babu was in touch with us for all these years,” she said.

Local SUCI(C) leader Bhabani Prasad Das feels its a 60:40 fight in favour of the BJP, after Adhikari joined them.

But, after Banerjee throwing her hat into the ring, it can be anybody’s game.

“It is now a 50:50 game. But, having said that BJP still has a slight edge due to the communal polarisation,” Das said.

Nandigram assembly constituency has around 70 per cent Hindus, while Muslims account for the rest.

The TMC, however, disagreed that the entire Hindu population would vote for the BJP as Banerjee’s “appeal go beyond political and religious affiliations”.

Fourteen years since Nandigram became a TMC stronghold, social disparity, development and, fortune for a “selected few” have not only angered the locals but also forced some of them to think of an alternative.

The BJP had in 2014 Lok Sabha polls secured 6 per cent votes in Tamluk but in 2016 during a bypoll on this seat, the saffron party bagged nearly 16 per cent votes. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls the saffron party got 36 per cent votes.

“What did we get out of the anti-land acquisition movement? We were used as pawns in the political fight. Some people made a huge fortune, and we still live in abject poverty. Had there been an industry, we would have got jobs. Now we have nothing, our children are forced to live in other states,” says Gokul Jana, a farmer who was part of the BUPC.

“We all fought the battle, but some of them made huge fortunes after the party came to power and people like us still live in abject poverty. Even post-Amphan local TMC leaders siphoned off funds, and those who were affected did not get anything. We feel betrayed,” said Abhiram, a TMC activist of Adhikaripara.

Although there has been development in the area such as availability of drinking water,100 per cent electrification, bridges, metalled roads, hospitals and schools, but lack of employment opportunities and the alleged corruption by some TMC leaders seems to have angered the masses.

The district TMC leadership, however, says its due to “result of a misinformation campaign by the BJP”.

“There are indeed some allegations, but most of them who were involved in corruption have either been thrown out of the party or has left for the BJP with Suvendu.

“With Mamata di fighting from Nandigram, we would win the elections hands down,” said local TMC leader and East Midnapore deputy chairman of Zilla Parishad Sheikh Sufiyan.

BJP Tamluk district general secretary Gour Hari Maity told PTI people wish to oust the corrupt TMC from the area.