As we wait at Tengia Mod or the roundabout in Nandigram, a few locals tell me that they are happy Mamata Banerjee is contesting from here. The reason being the road that takes them to their tiny shops, which till recently was missing, has now been built. “Didi would have shouted which is why it was built in a hurry,” they said. This is the road which Suvendu Adhikari travelled by on Wednesday when he inaugurated the new Bharatiya Janata Party office in the area. Speaking at a rally, he said he is the son of Nandigram, while Mamata was coming there to contest. He also played a video from a public meeting where she had chanted the chandipath, claiming that she had recited the mantra all wrong.
Waiting for Suvendu Adhikari to arrive were some young boys. One of them, Pratin Mallick, told me, “She (Mamata) has done nothing for us. I earn only Rs 3,000 which isn’t enough for me to manage my home. Suvendu gives us hope, now that he has joined the BJP, that work will be done. It’s not about Suvendu. I have faith in the PM which is why I am sure Mamata will lose.” Agreed his friend Rajan Basak. “I want to know why she pretends to be a Hindu when she went to a masjid immediately after that to do namaz,” he said.
The polarisation is near complete. Some videos have gone viral showing Mamata Banerjee performing the namaz. They are unverified, but for the BJP workers in Nandigram this is proof enough that she is appeasing Muslims while trying to project herself as a Hindu. Malati Basak , a Trinamool Congress supporter, said, “This is nonsense. I was with her. She never went there. I am a Hindu and she has taken care of me. How can the BJP say this about her?”
But it’s the ‘outsider vs insider’ issue which is now gathering impetus in Nandigram. Much like what Mamata has accused the BJP of being, here supporters of the saffron party say Mamata is an outsider and a seasonal neta coming to Nandigram in distress.
A little away from where Suvendu Adhikari’s cavalcade was to cross through is Sonachura. It’s a largely Hindu-dominated area. The view here is divided. 76-year-old Debu Das, who was there in 2007 when the anti-land acquisition agitation led by the Trinamool took place and was hurt in police firing, said, “I would never see Mamata as an outsider. Nandigram is known because of her. Each time a powerful corporate wants to take over farmers’ land, Nandigram is a reminder that what can happen.” His friend, Ratan Basak, disagreed and intervened, “But she has not come back. She should have contested from here then, not from Bhawanipur, if she cared. She left behind Suvendu to look after us. So why should we be traitors?” he asked. Debu stopped sipping his tea, looking angrily at Ratan. “Traitors? Isn’t Suvendu a traitor? He left the party which made him famous. He is allowing outsiders to enter Bengal,” he said.
As I drove towards Reyapara where Mamata Banerjee has rented a home, fresh posters are being put up of the Bengal CM. Posters of Suvendu Adhikari have been ripped apart to make space for her. There were several buses and tempos filled to the brim with TMC supporters who got down near her house. They move around in batches of 10 to oversee the arrangements just before Mamata was to leave for Haldia to file her nomination.
Two young supporters came to tell me, “How can she be an outsider? She made Nandigram. She created it and now Suvendu claims that this is his.”
Sources say the reason why Mamata Banerjee was insistent on renting a home was to make the point that she is here to stay. Even more so as Suvendu has a home in his constituency. The Trinamool plans to put up posters to show that Mamata was with Nandigram in its worst moment. Today she hopes this star constituency is with her when she is fighting one of the toughest battles of her life.