Election campaigning for the high-profile Nandigram seat came to an end on Tuesday evening, but not before Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee Suvendu Adhikari pulled out all the stops to embarrass his mentor-turned-opponent, chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
“Bole bole Nandigram, Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram (Nandigram says Jai Shri Ram).” Loudspeakers blared out this slogan at Union home minister Amit Shah’s road show here on Tuesday. About an hour before that event, Banerjee happened to cross the spot in her car, even as BJP supporters gathered there shouted Jai Shri Ram — reminiscent of a similar incident before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Back then, Banerjee got off her car and confronted those involved in the sloganeering.
On Tuesday, such slogan-shouting happened twice during the day when Banerjee crossed crowds of BJP supporters. Outside the house in Nandigram where she stayed for the last three days, the BJP placed its party flags. Even flags bearing the “Om” symbol was put up, but Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers chose not to remove them.
Adhikari, meanwhile, accused Banerjee’s election agent, Sheikh Sufiyan, of threatening Hindu voters, and alleged that those backing the CM in Nandigram burst fire-crackers when Pakistan wins a cricket match.
Adhikari, along with BJP workers in Nandigram, has focused on visiting villages, asking Hindu voters to cast their votes without falling prey to alleged threats by the state’s ruling TMC. In villages such as Mahammadpur Bazar in Nandigram Block-1, which has a sizeable Muslim population, some Hindu residents spoke of their intent to vote for the BJP, and said Adhikari promised to visit them as a confidence-building measure. The debate on polarisation between Hindu and Muslim voters is dominating a large part of the debate here.
The huge national, and even international, media attention on Nandigram in this election has local villagers bemused, with many pointing to the dilapidated roads and bridges instead. Villagers waiting for Banerjee’s arrival at a rally in Bansauli Cawk village told News18 on Tuesday that they were tired of the media’s enquiries on who they will choose, followed by the question that if they were Hindus or Muslims.
“Such polarisation is not good for this area. It was never like this earlier. We would rather have politicians and media raising development issues here. Look at the roads, the lack of toilets…,” the group said. CM Banerjee touched upon development issues in her last campaign rally on Tuesday. “I did not know that the traitor (Adhikari, who won the seat in 2016 on TMC ticket) has devastated Nandigram. Look at the road conditions here. It is terrible. If Suvendu had informed me, I could have repaired the roads in no time. But he didn’t inform me,” Banerjee said.
Authorities are meanwhile preparing for a challenging task before and during polling on April 1 with tempers running high on both sides. The BJP and the TMC are accusing each other of threatening voters. The seat may have only 275,000 voters, but Banerjee and Adhikari know how much each vote is worth in this fiercely fought contest that will redefine their political careers.