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Behind Mamata Banerjee’s Nandigram move: image building, and a message to BJP

Mamata Banerjee will contest the upcoming West Bengal Assembly elections from Nandigram. What is the significance of this? What led to her move?

Written by Santanu Chowdhury , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: January 21, 2021 8:06:46 am
Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram in 2007, during a movement that would launch her to power (Express Archive)

On Monday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced that she would contest the upcoming assembly elections from Nandigram in East Midnapore district. The announcement from Banerjee has taken Bengal politics by storm with many describing her move as a political masterstroke and a calculated move ahead of the crucial state assembly polls.

What is the significance of Nandigram?

Nandigram was one of the two epicentres of TMC’s anti land-acquisition movements in West Bengal, with the other being Singur which helped the party win the 2011 Assembly elections in the state, ending the 34-year rule of Left Front government.

In 2007, fourteen villagers were killed in police firing who were protesting against the then Left Front government’s proposed land acquisition for a chemical hub of Indonesia’s Salim group at Nandigram.

The Nandigram violence gave birth to TMC’s Maa, Mati, Manush (Mother, Motherland and People) slogan which was used in election campaigns. This was the place which turned Mamata Banerjee into a pro-farmer political figure.

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Which assembly constituency does Banerjee represent now?

Mamata Banerjee, who was a seven-time MP when her party won the 2011 polls, did not contest in 2011 Assembly polls. After becoming the Chief Minister of the state, she contested from Bhabanipur Assembly constituency in South Kolkata — where she resides — in an Assembly bypoll later that year and won by a margin of over 50,000 votes. In 2016 Assembly polls, Banerjee retained the seat by a margin of over 25,000 votes.

Why does Mamata Banerjee want to contest from Nandigram this time?

There are multiple reasons. Firstly, she has gone back to her image of a pro-farmer leader which had catapulted her to power in 2011. Nandigram has made what she is today and there is no denying her strong connect with the people of this constituency.

At a time when farmers are protesting against the farms laws in the national capital, Banerjee wants to once again establish her image as the protector of farmers’ rights and will walk an extra mile to ensure their rights are honoured. Nandigram provides the perfect platform for Banerjee to assert her resolve towards addressing the agrarian crisis.

Secondly, she has gone for a direct contest with the BJP which had delivered a massive blow to her party last month by roping in TMC heavyweight and Nandigram MLA Suvendu Adhikari.

Through her decision, she has not shied away from a direct face-off with Adhikari and on the other hand challenged him on his home turf. This will ensure TMC’s relevance in East Midnapore district without the support of the Adhikari family. Suvendu, with his father Sisir Adhikari and brother Dibyendu Adhikari – both of them being TMC MPs, have great influence over electors in East Midnapore and its adjoining districts.

The BJP will now face a daunting task of defeating Banerjee in Nandigram as she has not lost an election in Bengal since 1989 Lok Sabha polls.

Thirdly, Banerjee with her announcement also asserted her image as a fighter. Despite being under pressure from the BJP in Bengal, Banerjee has taken the saffron party by the horns and forced it to rethink its entire electoral strategy. She has also rejuvenated the party’s rank and file and sent a message to party leaders, and especially the fence sitters, to reconsider their position. This comes as a major boost to the party which is looking to form a government in the state for the third consecutive time.

On the other hand, it is also assumed that Banerjee is trying to ensure her victory from another seat, other than Bhabanipur where she is lately facing a tough challenge from the BJP. As per the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the TMC led the Assembly segment by a thin margin of 3,000 votes which is a matter of concern for the party.

According to political observers, the TMC branding central BJP leaders as outsiders did not go down well with the non-Bengalis in Bhabanipur constituency. This could cause an upset to the party if the 2019 Lok Sabha polls are repeated in Bhabanipur in the upcoming Assembly polls.

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