March 30, 2021 10:03:09 pm
On the boundary wall outside Rani Parui’s house in Khodambari area of Nandigram, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is camping ahead of the second phase of West Bengal Assembly polls, local BJP supporters painted a graffiti in favour of her top aide-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari.
In every village of Nandigram in East Midnapore district, which has emerged as the most prized electoral battleground in the state, every ten BJP flags or festoons is met by at least nine, or even 11, of the ruling Trinamool Congress.
It’s the same down to the last corner of East Midnapore ahead of the second phase of polling on April 1, as the two major players this election prepare for a bruising battle for every Assembly seat in the district. While the BJP has set its sights on leveraging the perceived clout of the Adhikari family to reap poll dividend in Nandigram and elsewhere in East Midnapore, the Trinamool is hedging its bets on its mascot Mamata, or ‘Didi’, to dent the sphere of influence of its former strongman.
Not just in Nandigram, even in neighbouring Panskura, Kanthi, Ramnagar, Digha, Tamluk and Haldia areas of East Midnapore, it is these two parties that are competing for every inch of campaigning space.
It is said the Adhikari family has a finger on the local poll pulse and it’s this aura of invincibility which will be put to the ultimate test on April 1.
After his younger son Soumendu Adhikari’s car was attacked at Kanthi on March 27, a furious Sisir Adhikari, without naming the Trinamool, sent out a chilling warning from the drawing room of his residence ‘Shantikunj’. “If anyone dares to harm a hair on my sons’ heads, our response will be swift. It will take us barely hours to give a fitting reply to the culprit,” said the veteran leader, who is still a Trinamool MP.
The legacy of the Adhikari family has its origins in the erstwhile Left Front regime. Even when the Left was ruling the roost in Bengal, the Adhikaris held their sway over East Midnapore. It was largely down to the family that the Trinamool made a clean sweep of the district in the 2011 and 2016 Assembly elections.
However, just months ahead of the ongoing polls, the ruling party suffered a numbing blow after its East Midnapore strongman dumped Trinamool for the BJP. While Suvendu’s younger siblings Soumendu and Dibyendu followed him to the saffron camp months later, their father switched sides at the recent East Midnapore rally headlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A senior Trinamool leader in the district told The Indian Express, “It would have been a walkover for the BJP had Mamata Banerjee not contested Nandigram, the stronghold of the Adhikari family. And it changed the whole scenario in East Midnapore for us. Now, we are fighting in every inch of the district under Didi’s leadership.”
Conceding to mining the clout of the Adhikari household for poll rewards in previous years, Mamata recently said, “We used to depend on the Adhikari family. Whenever I wanted to come here, the father (Sisir) and son (Suvendu) would ask me to leave it all to them. Now, I have come to realise that all that happened in East Midnapore over the last 10 years wasn’t fair.”
Picking up her refrain, local Trinamool cadres are going door-to-door in Nandigram with the message, “Mamata Banerjee has chosen to fight from here this time. Those who took money and indulged in corrupt practices will face appropriate action once she returns to power.”
However, the senior Adhikari dismissed the allegation, saying, “She gave us power because we deserved it. Without our family’s support, she wouldn’t have won East Midnapore or even Jangalmahal. Now she’s foisted her bhaipo (nephew Abhishek Banerjee) as the new leader. No one in the party is happy with that decision. She is resorting to unfair means to win the election but we know how to deal with that. I’ve been in politics for more than 60 years. I know what to do and what not to do.”
Seeking to punch holes in the image of the Adhikaris, Mamata recently blamed the family for the firing incident in Nandigram in 2007. “Do you remember how cadres in police uniform came to attack Nandigram but were caught because they had slippers on? This time too, central force uniforms have been bought to dress BJP workers as security personnel. Baap-beta (father-son) was responsible for letting such forces march into Nandigram in 2007. I challenge them to prove me wrong,” the CM said at a rally in Nandigram.
Hitting back, Sisir Adhikari said, “She once claimed she was the leader of the movement and now, she is saying we brought ‘Choti Police’! There was a big conspiracy behind the Nandigram firing incident and after coming to power, the chief minister gave promotions and lucrative posts to every police officer involved.”
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