All eyes are on the election results in West Bengal on May 2 with the high-profile seat in East Midnapore’s Nandigram taking the political centre stage. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee is contesting here against her former lieutenant, Suvendu Adhikari, who has joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) camp. Political experts believe that the outcome in this constituency will have a bearing on both leaders.
Polling in Nandigram was held on April 1, in the second of eight phases of elections in the state. Eighty-eight per cent people cast their votes in this seat — which is about one percentage point more than that in 2016, when Adhikari won the seat as a candidate of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC).
The TMC grabbed the Nandigram seat from the Left in a 2009 bypoll, and then retained it in 2011 and 2016. The agitations against land acquisition in Nandigram and Hooghly’s Singur in 2007-2008 catapulted Banerjee to the pedestal of power in Bengal in 2011.
In the 2009 by-election, the TMC’s Firoja Bibi won Nandigram by securing 93,022 votes (58.28% vote share). Back then, the BJP’s Bijan Kumar Das got only 9,813 votes (1.72% Nandigram). The by-election was held on January 5, 2009. It was necessitated by the resignation of Communist Party of India legislator Muhammad Ilyas after a sting operation that alleged corruption.
In the 2011 assembly polls, when Banerjee came to power by ending 34 years of Left rule in Bengal, TMC’s Bibi secured a vote share of 61.21%, while the BJP’s Das got only 1.72% of the votes.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, TMC candidate Adhikari defeated the BJP’s Badshah’s Alam by 63,0663 votes in Tamluk (Nandigram falls under this Lok Sabha seat). While Adhikari’s vote share was 53.60%, Alam’s was just 6.40%.
Two years later, in the 2016 assembly elections, Adhikari emerged as a winner with a vote share of 67.20%. The BJP’s Das failed to make much of an impact and got just 10,713 votes (5.40% vote share).
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when the BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats, the TMC fielded Adhikari’s brother, Dibyendu Adhikari, against the BJP’s Siddhartha Naskar from Tamluk. Dibyendu won with a margin of 190,165 votes. The TMC got 50.08% of the votes, while the BJP got 36.44%.
Past performances and Banerjee’s entry into the fray have made the TMC confident. On the other hand, the BJP’s bet its Adhikari and his family’s significant influence in East Midnapore district and other districts. According to analysts, the BJP will hope to get a significant chunk of the Hindu votes in Nandigram, while the TMC will look at the 30% of Muslim votes.
According to the 2011 census, Muslims account for 34.04% of the population in Nandigram’s Block 1. In Block 2, the corresponding number is about 12.12%.
“Most of the political parties are fighting the 2021 Assembly polls on religious and caste lines. In Nandigram too, the BJP is banking on Hindu vote share, while TMC is looking at Muslim votes. This is for the first time when political parties are openly talking about polarisation politics in Bengal. The BJP knows it well that it will not get a significant number of Muslim votes in Nandigram. And therefore, it is trying to polarise the Hindu vote share,” political expert Kapil Thakur said.
TMC parliamentarian Saugata Roy said his party believed that people in Nandigram will vote for Banerjee, and not for “anyone who talks about divisive politics”. On Adhikari’s performance in the organisation over the past two years, he said: “It was not up to the mark. He failed in the areas where he was in charge. There was an unnecessary hype over Suvendu.”
Adhikari was the TMC’s incharge for Purulia, Jhargram, Murshidabad, Malda, East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Bankura and Bishnupur districts. In 2019, the TMC lost nine of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in this region.
Tamluk BJP president Nabarun Nayak dismissed claims that the TMC will emerge as a comfortable winner in East Midnapore, which has 16 assembly seats. In 2016, TMC won 13 seats in this district, while the remaining three went to the Left.
“As of now, going with the mood of people in East Midnapore, we are sweeping this district. We are going to win all the 16 assembly seats in East Midnapore and the TMC’s days are numbered. Just wait for the result day on May 2,” Nayak said.