In the 30-odd Bengal assembly seats that will go to polls on Thursday (April 1), the contest is mainly between Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its turncoats who shifted loyalties to the BJP. Nandigram will see the mother of all battles as Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee locks horns with her former close aide Suvendu Adhikari.
These switchovers of candidates have not only confused the voters, but also kept the parties on tenterhooks as they wonder which way the wind is actually blowing.
Dissent within BJP and TMC over selection of candidates in some of these seats has made the battle more intricate.
Nandigram – The battle royale
In Nandigram, for instance, the Mamata Banerjee – Suvendu Adhikari duel has turned into a high-pitched contest charged with hate rhetoric. Anticipating violence and breach of peace, the Election Commission clamped prohibitory orders in Nandigram under section 144 of the CrPC from March 30 to April 2. The order restricted assembly of five or more persons, excluding voters and those on election duty, within 200 metres of polling booths. The restriction was necessitated as clashes were reported from various parts of the constituency hours after the campaigning ended on Wednesday (March 31) evening.
The EC has deployed 22 companies of central forces for this high-profile constituency. Besides, the EC has decided to deploy a 22-personnel quick response team on the polling day.
The BJP, which had a marginal presence in Nandigram during the last assembly elections, suddenly became a strong contender with Adhikari jumping into the BJP bandwagon in the run up to the polls. With Adhikari, several grassroots workers of the TMC changed side as well, bolstering the saffron camp’s chances.
Meanwhile, many who had initially joined the BJP returned to the TMC fold. For instance, initially 25 of the 42 “martyr” families of 2007 Nadigram movement had backed Adhikari, but later many of them changed their mind and went back to the TMC.
This flip-flop and constant political churning is keeping both the BJP and the TMC on the edge.
In this crucial battle, the CPI (M)’s 37-year-old firebrand candidate Minakshi Mukherjee can emerge as a decisive factor.
Both the TMC and the BJP are wary of Mukherjee, fearing she may dent their vote base. On Tuesday, Mukherjee and her supporters were allegedly attacked by the TMC ‘goons’ in Bhutamore area of the constituency.
Mukherjee’s spirited campaign has drawn good response, but many Left leaders in private expressed scepticism about converting the crowds into vote. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, several Left supporters across the state had voted for the BJP.
This time, in Nandigram, there could be similar cross-voting even by BJP and TMC supporters, said local journalist Sahib Alam Sha.
Elsewhere in Bengal
Besides Nandigram, the BJP has fielded former TMC leaders in Narayangarh, Bishnupur, Kharagpur, Gosaba to name a few. The BJP candidate in Haldia, Tapasi Mandal, is a former CPI (M) legislator.
In Debra, BJP candidate Bharati Ghosh, a former police officer, was once close to Mamata Banerjee before she joined the BJP in 2019.
During her stint as Officer in Special Duty for regions affected by Left Wing Extremism, Ghosh dubbed Mamata as “Ma of Junglemahal (mother of Junglemahal), the area once affected by Maoist militancy.
With a declared asset worth Rs 19 crore, Ghosh is the wealthiest candidate in the fray.
Giving tickets to recruit from other parties proved to be a double-edged sword for the BJP in many seats. The resentments among the old guards over giving nominations to new recruits could prove to be Achilles heels for the BJP in some of these constituencies.
Of the 30 constituencies from four districts of East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Bankura and South 24 Parghanas going to poll on April 1, BJP has won only Kharagpur the last time. The TMC pocketed 21 seats while the rest went to the Left.
The saffron party significantly improved its tally in 2019 parliamentary elections, winning West Midnapore and Bankura.