With the BJP on Saturday announcing Suvendu Adhikari’s candidature from the Nandigram seat, the stage is set for the Battle Royale between him and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the most high-profile constituency in the upcoming West Bengal assembly elections. Nandigram — the cradle of the anti-land acquisition movement that catapulted Banerjee to power in 2011, will witness her once protg Suvendu Adhikari taking on her on April 1, in the second of the eight phases of polling.
The 66-year-old TMC supremo, while announcing the party’s candidate list on Friday, reaffirmed her name from Nandigram. She had declared in January that she will contest the seat in Purba Medinipur district.
The BJP announced the names of a majority of its candidates for the seats going to polls in the first two phases of the elections on March 27 and April 1. For 50-year-old Adhikari, the contest in Nandigram will be a fight for his political survival as he had vowed to defeat Banerjee by over 50,000 votes in the seat or quit politics.
“The stage is set for the fight of the year. We will see who is more popular — Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee or Suvendu Adhikari. Suvendu is a son of the soil and a popular leader. We don’t want an outsider in Nandigram," Adhikari’s close aide Kanishka Panda said. Reacting to the development, TMC MP Sougata Roy said Adhikari will be defeated as people of West Bengal dislike “traitors".
“People of West Bengal dislike traitors. It is good that Suvendu is contesting the Nandigram seat. Once he loses, he will get to know his stature and that he was overrated," he said. Adhikari won the Nandigram seat in the 2016 assembly election, while another TMC candidate emerged victorious from the constituency in 2011.
Adhikari had quit the TMC and resigned from the MLA post last year to join the BJP after having differences with the ruling party in the state. Banerjee, on the other hand, will contest the Nandigram seat for the first time, after relinquishing her Bhowanipore constituency in Kolkata. She has rented a house in Nandigram and will campaign from there.
Reports suggest that Abbas Siddiqui-led Indian Secular Front (ISF) is likely to be given the constituency in the seat-sharing agreement with CPI (M) and Congress. Both Banerjee and Adhikari were prominent figures of the anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram in 2007 that catapulted the firebrand TMC supremo to power in West Bengal in 2011 after ending the 34-year-long rule of the Left Front.
The little-known rural area changed the political landscape of West Bengal after witnessing one of the bloodiest movements against the government’s land acquisition for industrialisation. After years of peace, Nandigram, with 70 per cent Hindus and 30 per cent Muslims, however, is now witnessing political and communal polarisation, with the latter firmly backing the TMC that had controlled the area for the last decade-and-a-half.
The constituency comprises two blocks — Nandigram I and Nandigram II — with the first having 35 per minority population and the second almost 15 per cent. Suvendu, a bachelor, is the heir apparent of the powerful Adhikari family of Purba Medinipur district.
He has taken over the political legacy of his father, Sisir Adhikari, a three-time TMC MP. One of his younger brothers, Dibyendu Adhikari, is the sitting TMC MP from Tamluk, while another brother Soumendu recently joined the BJP after he was removed from the post of administrator of Kanthi Municipality.
Suvendu was baptised into politics as a student leader in the late 80s. He became a Congress councillor in Kanthi Municipality in the 90s. He and his father joined the TMC in 1999, a year after it was formed after breaking away from the Congress.
Suvendu had twice unsuccessfully contested elections — the 2001 assembly and the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. He first won the assembly elections in 2006. After becoming one of the prominent figures of the Nandigram anti- land acquisition movement, there was no looking back for him.
In 2009 and 2014, he had won the Lok Sabha polls from the Tamluk seat. However, in 2016, Banerjee nominated him from the Nandigram assembly constituency and inducted him into her cabinet. But Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek’s meteoric rise in the TMC did not go down well with Adhikari, and he felt sidelined in the party.
In December last year, he switched over to the BJP at a rally of Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Medinipur. Elections to the 294-member assembly will be held in eight phases from March 27 to April 29.
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