Nandigram is voting on 5 May in the last phase of West Bengal elections. To maintain the decorum of free and fair polls, the EC has taken extra caution, sought evidences for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s rant against policemen who were trying hard to reign in her party strongmen, while taking extra care to divert adequate police and paramilitary forces to the polling stations.
But Trinamool Chief Mamata Banerjee did not campaign in battleground Nandigram, the seat that was pivotal in her rise to power. Rather she focused on Kanthi, Chandipur, Egra, Panskura and all other nearby assembly segments for the last phase of polling. Not Nandigram. She does not need to.
Mamata knows it is in safe hands and it has gone back to being the peaceful old days of agriculturists. In December when even the elections dates were not announced, she had introduced her favored candidate to boost up her supporters in Nandigram who had gone disenchanted over these years.
The candidate was the sitting MP from Tamluk constituency of which Nandigram is an assembly segment. It looked a prudent move then. To control the infighting among her local leaders who had fetched power and pledged proximity to her, it was a significant move to bring in satrap Subhendu Adhikari in the picture.
At the public meeting near the Tekhali bridge, the symbolic site of the Nandigram uprising of 2007, with Adhikari and MLA Firoza Bibi by her side, Mamata told her supporters: “I have not forgotten Nandigram. I am making a change here. Subhendu will contest the assembly elections from here and become a minister in my cabinet next time. I need him here.”
The MP, hearing his name, smiled silently, waving his hands. The two-time sitting MLA, the persecuted face of the Nandigram movement, Firoza Bibi, who had lost her son Raja, 19, to police firing on March 14, 2007, stood quietly beside her mentor.
Bibi has now been moved to Panksura west, a tough contest given Left’s alliance with the Congress and the infighting amongst the local Trinamool leaders. Nandigram is the safest seat for Adhikari and so the chief does not need to campaign for him. In return, Adhikari is taking care of Bibi’s candidature in Panskura west.
He likes the “Didi style”. “Remember you are voting for me. I am not asking your vote for Firoza Bibi”.
A significant reason for the shift has been the infighting between Abu Taher, chairman of Nandigram Panchayat Samiti and Sheikh Sufiyan, member of Purba Midnapore Zilla Parishad — all ticket aspirants now keen to topple Bibi.
Besides, there is another reason. The demure lady had couple of years ago dared to ask industry minister Partha Chatterjee in the floor of the assembly house “if there were any plans of the state government to set up industry in Nandigram”.
Her question went unanswered but the day the chief announced her shift from Nandigram in the public meeting, she declared that the state government would build an eco tourism hub in the nearby island Nayachar, the site earmarked for a nuclear power plant during the Left regime.
Before the announcement Mamata Banerjee had led a group of businessmen to recce the island for a development project. The situation in Nayachar was delicate, waiting to erupt, as Nandigram did after the notification for land acquisition for the nuclear power plant was put up.
Little-known CPM candidate Abdul Kadir is the opponent. None of the opposing bigwigs had also campaigned for him knowing full well that there are few takers for the Left in the assembly segment. People have neither forgotten nor forgiven the Left for daring to take away their fertile land for industry. “We still stand for the cause. We will not give away our lands even today”, says Sheikh Qasim, a primary school teacher.
The ruling TMC candidate also does not promise the moon. In the last nine years a recent Shahid Minar has been built to commemorate the deaths of the martyrs of 14 March, 2007.
Eleven people were killed by police firing at Bhanga Bera near Sonachura in Nandigram and three others at Adhikari para near the same area when hordes of people protested against land acquisition. Later, the movement became a significant cause to change the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. A farmer’s free market has also been built and several of the brick lanes have been made concrete.
Kalpana Munian, who was picked up by the Harmad Bahini, armed men of Leftists at the time of the uprising, is back at home. Gang rape survivors are also back home but no one has been convicted for their crime. Instead police cases on the members of the Bhoomi Uched Pratirodh Committee (Committee Against Land Acquisition) who had then led the movement and fought against the Left government, have been withdrawn. Many of the prominent ones now happen to be TMC leaders.
Mamata Banerjee remains elusive. “She campaigns only in areas where there is the presence of opposition, not here”, explained Manik Adhikari, a TMC supporter. “This area is of the Adhikaris and we shall get all the 13 segments for the Trinamool Congress (TMC)” he said.
The Adhikaris, father Sisir, Member of Parliament from Kanthi constituency and son Shubhendu, MP from Tamluk who rose to power after the Nandigram conflict, call the shots independently in the region.
Shubhendu happens to be the chairman of the Haldia Development Authority Board controlling development in the port town, while Shishir, the father who had led the Nandigram movement from the front are TMC toughs who would win seats on their own.
Sometime back, the elder Adhikari had antagonized the Trinamool Chief for including younger sons Dibyendu and Soumendu Adhikari in the political circuit. Dibyendu is contesting from Contai South while Soumendu is the chairman of Contai Municipality in the area. They were also summoned in the Sarada Realty cases by the CBI and are also under scrutiny for the appointment of primary teachers in the locality.
But then stronger men prevail and in Nandigram, TMC has a strong candidate.
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