The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is banking on the influential Adhikari family to yield electoral gains in the second phase of the West Bengal elections, especially in East Medinipur district, where nine seats, including Nandigram, are voting on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will return to the state to campaign in Howrah and South 24-Parganas districts, even as polling will continue in 30 assembly seats in Phase 2.
Of these constituencies, the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) won 22 in 2016. The BJP, on the other hand, won just one — Kharagpur Sadar — which it eventually lost in a 2019 bypoll after the party’s state president and incumbent, Dilip Ghosh, became an MP. The Left won five of the 30 seats, while the Congress bagged two.
The TMC aims to retain its fortress here with chief minister Mamata Banerjee herself contesting from Nandigram, the site of a land agitation that contributed to her rise in power in 2011. The party is heavily relying on the CM’s appeal to avoid major losses and parry corruption charges levelled by the opposition. But what has bolstered the BJP in this phase is East Medinipur’s powerful Adhikari family, which is siding with the party.
Suvendu Adhikari, Banerjee’s erstwhile lieutenant who won Nandigram in 2016, has crossed over to the BJP and is contesting against the CM in this high-profile constituency. His father, Sisir Adhikari, who won the Kanthi Lok Sabha seat in 2019, too, has sided with the BJP. His brother, Dibyendu Adhikari, won the Tamluk Lok Sabha seat for the TMC in 2019; he is still officially with the ruling party.
Elsewhere, the BJP’s Saumitra Khan won the Bishnupur Lok Sabha seat two years ago; the party is hoping to sweep the district on the back of this success, while also relying on what it believes to be positive sentiment for PM Modi, who held a massive rally here just 10 days ago.
On Thursday, Modi will hold rallies in Uluberia in Howrah district and Jaynagar in South 24-Parganas for Phase 3 seats, as votes are cast in the adjacent regions of East and West Medinipur. This strategy is consistent with the PM’s campaign in other states.
News18’s travel through the areas going to polls in Phase 2 indicates an even fight in the West Medinipur, where nine seats are polling; discontent in the four seats in the Suderbans (South 24-Paraganas) over alleged mismanagement by the TMC of relief work in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan in May 2020; advantage for the BJP in Bankura; and a hyper-active fight between the BJP and the TMC in East Medinipur, which includes Nandigram.
The fact that CM Banerjee chose not to campaign in the 29 other seats going to polls in Phase 2 over the last three days — she camped in Nandigram — could also have an impact in this round. TMC leaders, however, said Banerjee visited some of these 29 seats before. PM Modi, too, did not visit Bengal between Phase 1 (March 27) and Phase 2. But BJP leaders argued that the PM had earlier held rallies in Bankura and Kharagpur for Phase 2. Modi will also hold two more rallies in Bengal on April 3 — in Tarakeshwar for Phase 3 and in Sonarpur for Phase 4.
Battle Ground Nandigram
The main focus of Phase 2 is on the Nandigram seat, where BJP nominee Suvendu Adhikari will try to pull out all the stops to upset Banerjee; the seat is being perceived as the barometer for assessing the CM’s popularity among people at a time when her party is facing flak from some quarters due to issues such as cut money (commissions) and corruption.
With Nandigram’s 270,000 voters divided into two blocks with different religious demographics, the TMC is looking at consolidating its base in the bigger Block 1, which has 160,000 voters (34% of them Muslims). The BJP has focused more on Block 2, which has a much smaller Muslim population (about 11% of the voters in this block).
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the TMC got a lead of nearly 68,000 votes over the BJP in the Nandigram assembly segment, as Dibyendu Adhikari won Tamluk. In 2016, Suvendu Adhikari won Nandigram on TMC ticket by a big margin, polling 67% of the votes. However, the equations have changed this time around with the BJP camp hoping the Adhikaris will help it turn the tables.