Nandigram has been the ‘epicentre’ of ‘poriborton’ of sorts. Way back in 2007, things went horribly awry for the CPM... cut to January 18, 2021, and is it Trinamool’s turn to be “paid back in the same coin” (remember what the erstwhile Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had said on March 14, 2007, the day protesting farmers were fired on)?
For clarity, we need to flash back to the rise and rise of Trinamool, especially in Nandigram, vis-à-vis the challenge posted to the same Trinamool (supremo) 14 years later, by her own former party strongman... Suvendu Adhikari.
In 2007, it was the ‘symbolic’ Nandigram that shook the entire nation. Riding high on the Left regime’s three-decade rule of the state, the then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya was on a mission to industrialise West Bengal.
But the then opposition leader and Trinamool Congress's fiery Mamata Banerjee, had fasted throughout December 2006, putting Tata Motors in reverse gear. Also, the Left’s decision to set up the Salim SEZ in Nandigram was botched when farmers, with the help of Trinamool activists, clashed with around 300 CPI(M) cadres. Six died in the violent clashes and the farmers blocked the area that had been categorised for the SEZ.
Ruling party excesses
Nandigram also showed how a constitutional crisis was precipitated when the ruling party (the CPM) took the law into its own hands and made the state machinery witness to the excesses of its cadres.
To prevent police and the local administration from entering the area, the people set up blockades. Clashes with the pro-government groups started and some of them had to flee to the nearby Khejuri town. On January 5, various groups and parties like the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the SUCI formed the Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC). On January 7, 2007, the CPI-M cadres tried to recapture lost ground and reportedly attacked the villagers. In turn, the villagers attacked the CPM cadres. The then CM admitted that a mistake had been made by the Haldia Development Authority in issuing a notice notifying the land. But on February 12, 2007, the chairperson of the authority, a CPM MP, again stated that the land would be acquired.
On March 14, Bhattacharya ordered 2,500 policemen to go and ‘recapture” Nandigram, but they were allegedly accompanied by 400 ‘CPI(M) cadres’. Officially, 14 farmers died in the firing. Bhattacharya, instead of showing any remorse, had said, “They have been paid back in their own coin.” The coin, like in the film Sholay, probably had the same impression on both sides and for the CPM at that moment, it was ‘heads they’d lose and tails too’. While the Left lost all its credibility in its bastion, Trinamool went from strength to strength and the rest is history. In 2011, Didi’s ‘Ma, Maati, Manush’ ruled the roost!
Script gone awry
But all that is past. On January 18, 2021, hours after the CM and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee announced she was contesting the upcoming state assembly polls from Nandigram, Adhikari, once her aide and brigadier in the Nandigram battle, but today, a BJP heavyweight, attacked his former boss, for “remembering Nandigram only during polls”.
Reality is always harsh. The same Nandigram which was the scene of massive public protests and those by Mamata and her able aide Adhikari, today looks like a script that went out of the director and producer’s control.
After Mamata sprang a surprise on Monday when she declared she would contest the 2021 assembly election from Nandigram, the seat held by Adhikari, her former aide retorted, “You, your corrupt nephew and your ‘private limited’ can make announcements. But either you will lose Nandigram by over half-a-lakh votes, or else I will quit politics. Whether it’s me or whoever else the BJP chooses to field from Nandigram, we will beat Mamata by over half-a-lakh votes.”
We need to read between the lines here. Mamata, a veteran in politics, had initially said at the rally she would pick a formidable candidate for Nandigram, only to announce moments later that she was picking herself and would also stand from Bhowanipore. This, however, gave the BJP a chance to point out that the seasoned stalwart wasn't sure of her fate in Bhowanipore this time.
“The BJP had pushed back the TMC (by 496 votes) in Mamata Banerjee’s own ward (KMC Ward No 73) under Bhowanipore Assembly constituency during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. That explains Pishi’s jitteriness and decision to change her seat... If the CM is not sure, can her party win?” tweeted Amit Malviya, head of the BJP’s national information technology cell, who has been given additional charge of Bengal prior to the polls.
In East Midnapore, the Adhikaris have a massive fan following. The district’s Contai and Tamluk Lok Sabha seats are represented by Suvendu’s father Sisir Adhikari and his elder brother Dibyendu Adhikari. Both are, according to grapevine, likely to join the BJP.
However, Mamata’s move is also being looked at as a masterstroke. With just one move, she has turned the battle between the BJP and the TMC into a slugfest between herself and Adhikari.
For Adhikari, it will be no cakewalk winning Nandigram now, given Didi’s old track record and continuing popularity. Mamata’s announcement to stand from Nandigram will now restrict Adhikari’s movements outside Nandigram. This announcement has put the shackles on him. He will be so bogged down in Nandigram that he will not be able to canvas for the BJP elsewhere in the state. He has been checkmated by Didi’s masterstroke.
It may be noted that Adhikari also said ... “whether me or whoever else fights from Nandigram...”. This quick cut from Adhikari also means that he may not have to face the onslaught of a political veteran like Mamata.
In 2016, it may be recalled that TMC got 67 per cent votes in Nandigram, while the BJP got a paltry 5 per cent but the latter made deep inroads in the 2019 elections and won around 30 per cent of the votes, gnawing primarily into the Left’s vote share.
In the beginning
Mamata began her political career in the Congress in the 70s. In 1975, she got the attention of the media by dancing on the car of socialist activist and politician Jayaprakash Narayan, in protest. She quickly rose in the ranks of the local Congress group and remained the general secretary of the Mahila Congress (Indira), West Bengal, from 1976 to 1980.
In the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, Banerjee became one of India's youngest parliamentarians ever. She defeated the CPM giant Somnath Chatterjee to win the Jadavpur parliamentary Constituency in West Bengal. She also became the general secretary of the Indian Youth Congress in 1984. She lost her seat to Malini Bhattacharya of the CPM in the 1989 general elections in an anti-Congress wave, only to be re-elected in 1991, having settled into the Calcutta South constituency. She retained the now Kolkata South seat in the 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009 polls.
What began at Nandigram… seems to be culminating at Nandigram. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction!
Today, the saffron camp has managed to bag a prize catch in Adhikari and is doing everything, or at least attempting to pay back the Trinamool in its ‘own coin’, by pitching the former Trinamool strongman against his ex-boss (as of now). She had relied heavily on him, having handed over the bastion to the Adhikari Brothers, who made it their fortress. Today, with saffron help, Adhikari is trying to ‘uchched’ (throw out) the Trinamool from its stronghold and the BJP is riding the Adhikari crest to get it done or at least making an effort, so to say.
But Mamata’s sudden move may have slightly upset the BJP’s plans. Someone will lose in Nandigram. The ‘Sholay’ coin will be tossed once more and only time will tell if it’s ‘heads I win, or tails you lose”.
The writer is Senior Associate Editor, Free Press, Indore.