West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s decision to contest the upcoming polls from the Nandigram assembly constituency seat has not surprised many. The seat was earlier held by former Trinamool heavyweight Suvendu Adhikari till December last year, when he resigned from the assembly and switched to the BJP.
Addressing a huge public rally at Tekhali in Nandigram, Banerjee said, “Nandigram is close to my heart. I can forget my name but I cannot forget Nandigram. Considering the emotional attachment I have with the people of Nandigram, today I am announcing that I wish to contest the upcoming poll from Nandigram.”
While the BJP has alleged that its the TMC chief’s “political nervousness” that pressed her to contest from two seats – Bhawanipore in South Kolkata, the seat she won in the 2011 bypolls and in 2016, and Nandigram, many experts see a pragmatic political design behind her decision.
A political commentator, who did not wish to be named, said that it was Banerjee's way of telling the people, especially the BJP, that despite an exodus from her party and setbacks, she was confidence of taking on the saffron party anywhere and everywhere in the state.
It’s a deft political move from Mamata as it would confine the energy of BJP’s new warhorse Suvendu Adhikari and his family to the Nandigarm seat, the expert said. Adhikari won the seat in 2016 by defeating Abdul Kadir Sheikh of the Left Front-Congress alliance.
The Adhikari family wields considerable influence in Purba Medinipur and neighbouring districts including Paschim Medinipur, Purulia and Bankura. The area has a total of 63 assembly seats, critical for any party that wants to enter the state secretariat.
This would also help Trinamool fill in for the lack of a strong face in the area. The party has no credible face in both East and West Medinipur, the districts accounting for over 30 assembly seats. Further, it may help TMC in denting BJP’s in rural strongholds, the areas that majorly helped the saffron party shore up its vote share from just over 10% in 2016 Assembly polls to over 40% in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Mamata’s Nandigram move is also a signal of her return to the grass roots and street politics that she is known for, another Bengal watcher argues. "Remember, it was the Nandigram land agitation of 2007 which propelled TMC to power in Bengal," he said.
Besides, her decision also sends a very strong message to defectors-in-waiting — she will do whatever it takes to win the battle of Bengal and will not let her core voter-base split. One could also not miss the hallmark of Prashant Kishore’s electioneering style in Mamata’s move.