But for the not-so-unexpected drama in Nandigram, the high-profile constituency where Mamata Banerjee is locked in a tight contest with her colleague-turned-foe, Suvendu Adhikari, polling in the second phase on Thursday largely passed off without major incidents of violence or disruption either in Assam or in West Bengal. Sixty-nine assembly seats in the two states polled on Thursday, 30 of them in West Bengal.
Typically, West Bengal Chief Minister and the spearhead of the Trinamool Congress was engaged in one of her contretemps, targeting the Election Commission and the Central government. She landed at a polling booth sometime after noon, claiming that her polling agent was missing, the suggestion being that in the preceding night he had either been beaten up/kidnapped or won over by the Adhikari camp. Similar complaints were heard from a number of BJP candidates in several constituencies.
Yet, it was Mamata who enacted the drama, parking herself in the wheelchair outside a booth, putting an SOS call through to State Governor Jagdeep Dhankar and fulminating generally against the biased Election Commission. All this while a New Delhi television channel dedicated life-long to the service of the Congress in particular and the Opposition in general made it out as if utter chaos and confusion prevailed, and it was the handiwork of the BJP supporters while one could see in clear sight they being outnumbered by the TMC supporters ready to have a go at their rivals.
The fact is that an undercurrent of violence and intimidation has always prevailed in the polls in West Bengal. For long, the Left had enjoyed an upper hand in this department and thus reigned supreme for over three decades. Thanks to the Nandigram-Singur protest against the Tata Nano land acquisition which was spearheaded by Adhikari and Mamata, in that order since the Adhikari family has roots in the region, the Left eventually lost power to the Trinamool Congress. But make no mistake. On coming into power, she too followed the same strong-arm tactics of the Left, with most of the local hoods and goons shifting allegiance to her party.
In this backdrop, if Adhikari, a TMC insider till the other day, was now on the other side and could not only try and frustrate the TMC attempts at rigging but himself indulge in a bit of ‘dadagiri’ of his own, this was only to be expected. There are no saints on either side in this prestigious contest. Thanks to the high-pitched campaigning by both parties, the polling percentage of nearly 73 per cent recorded till 5 o’clock was not unusual. In sharp contrast, Assam reported 68 per cent polling by 5 o’clock.
Instead of development, nay bread and butter issues, both sides harped on extraneous matters such as the local versus outsiders or indulged in a barely concealed attempt to polarise the electorate on religious lines. The BJP candidate in Nandigram openly made references to ‘mini Pakistan’ and ‘Begum’ Mamata Banerjee and she, in turn, talked of her Brahmin gotra in a crude attempt to evoke sympathy among the majority voters who constitute nearly 70 per cent of the electorate in this assembly segment.
Of course, the stakes in Nandigram are high. A win for Adhikari would firm up his claim to lead the BJP legislative party, whether it comes into power or heads the Opposition. As for Mamata, should she win in Nandigram but cede power to the BJP in the state she will have a tough time retaining her supporters, given that the TMC lacks an organisational structure and relies generally on local toughs and influence-peddlers who act as interested middlemen taking cuts in government payments to the ordinary people under various Central and state welfare schemes.
It is the popular backlash against what the prime minister has called ‘tolabaazi’ that accounts for the stupendous rise of the BJP in the state, especially when the voters had the same experience previously under the Left and Congress dispensations. The Nandigram fight is bound to find reflection in other constituencies in the state, albeit with less intensity and media attention.
Meanwhile, it is significant that there is nary a mention of the Congress-Left alliance which too is in the fray in West Bengal but seems to have been written off by the voters even before the first vote was cast.