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All Eyes on High-stakes Nandigram as Polling Begins for 30 Seats in Second Phase of Bengal

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee holds a child during her election campaign roadshow for Assembly polls, in Nandigram. (PTI)

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee holds a child during her election campaign roadshow for Assembly polls, in Nandigram. (PTI)

All eyes are set on the Nandigram seat where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is contesting against her former lieutenant and BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari.

Amid tight security, polling began for 30 constituencies including the high-profile Nandigram seat of West Bengal at 7 am on Thursday. With strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols, voting is underway in nine seats each in Purba and Paschim Medinipur, districts, eight in Bankura and four in South 24 Parganas. In the morning, long queues were seen outside polling stations, where voting will continue till 6.30 pm.

All eyes are set on the Nandigram seat where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is contesting against her former lieutenant and BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari.

The Battle of Nandigram

For both contenders, CM Banerjee and Suvendu, Nandigram holds historical and political significance as they were part of the massive anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram in 2007 against the then Left-Front government. Reportedly, the protestors in Nandigram against the government’s bid to set up an SEZ on agricultural land were met with brutal repression by the Left.

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Following which at least 14 people died in police firing and many went missing. Locals also filed complaints of sexual violence against women and government-directed harassment of locals.

The run-up to the elections in Nandigram has therefore been extremely high-pitched, with both parties going all out to win what has also become a ‘prestige battle’.

Earlier in March, during one such political campaign, Banerjee grievously injured herself and alleged that it was because of an “attack by the BJP”. After being hospitalised for two days in Kolkata, Banerjee hit the campaign trail again with her leg in a cast, being ferried around in a wheelchair.

With a Muslim population of close to 30 percent, the political parties are largely fighting the election on rising cases of minority hunting and religious polarisation. As a result, Mamata Banerjee has gone on a whirlwind tour of temples in the constituency, visiting as many as 19 temples in one day, followed by a visit to a mazaar.

Meanwhile, BJP is looking to consolidate the Hindu votes in the constituency which their campaign largely based on- Banerjee’s ‘Muslim appeasement’ policy. Suvendu has repeatedly referred to Banerjee as “begum”, once even saying that she will turn Nandigram into Pakistan if she wins.

The Election Commission has declared all the 10,620 polling booths as sensitive and deployed around 651 companies of central forces, apart from the state police, to provide Security. A total of 210 companies of central armed police forces have been deployed in Paschim Medinipur, 199 in Purba Medinipur, 170 in South 24 Parganas and 72 in Bankura.