West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s tactical announcement to contest from Nandigram in East Midnapore in the upcoming assembly polls is certainly going to make former Trinamool Congress heavyweight Suvendu Adhikari’s task to prove his mettle before the central Bharatiya Janata Party leadership more difficult.
Political experts say that Suvendu, who is already struggling with the baggage of his past responsibilities and their outcome during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as a TMC leader, is definitely going to face extremely rough political weather following Mamata’s move.
Addressing a huge public rally at Tekhali in Nandigram on Monday, the CM said, “Nandigram is close to my heart. I can forget my name but I cannot forget Nandigram. Considering the emotional attachment I have with the people of Nandigram, today I am announcing that I wish to contest the upcoming polls from Nandigram. I would like to request my state president Subrata Bakshi to consider my name as the candidate from Nandigram in the 2021 state polls. Nandigram is lucky for me. I will not neglect the Bhowanipore seat also. I will try to contest from Bhowanipore too.”
While the BJP is upbeat at Suvendu Adhikari quitting the Mamata Banerjee government and her Trinamool Congress party, his performance as incharge of Purulia, Jhargram, Murshidabad, Malda, East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Bankura and Bishnupur in the 2019 parliamentary polls was not so great.
The TMC lost nine Lok Sabha seats out of the 13 in these regions where Suvendu is known as a mass leader and is believed to have significant clout among the people.
The ground situation suggests that the BJP on its own managed to win a significant seven out of the 13 seats (two seats, Berhampur and Malda South, went to the Congress) and made deep inroads into these districts which are supposedly Suvendu’s bastion.
Purulia has one Lok Sabha and nine assembly seats, while in Murshidabad there are three Lok Sabha and 19 assembly seats. In Malda, there are two Lok Sabha and 12 assembly seats and in East Midnapore there are two Lok Sabha and 15 assembly seats.
In Bankura and Bishnupur combined there are two Lok Sabha and 12 assembly seats, while in West Midnapore there are two Lok Sabha and 15 assembly seats. In Jhargram, there is one Lok Sabha and four assembly seats.
In all, there are 13 Lok Sabha seats and 86 assembly seats in these parts where Suvendu Adhikari is believed to be an excellent taskmaster in booth management.
However, in the 2019 parliamentary polls, except four seats – Kanthi (won by Suvendu’s father Sishir Adhikari on a TMC ticket, but BJP gained a 33.54 per cent vote share while Sishir lost a 3.82 per cent vote share), Tamluk (won by Suvendu’s brother Dibyendu on a TMC ticket, but BJP gained a 30.54 per cent vote share while Dibyendu lost a 3.52 per cent vote share), Jangipur (won by TMC’s Khalilur Rahman who defeated BJP’s Mafuja Khatun), and Murshidabad (won by TMC’s Abu Taher Khan) – the rest were lost by the ruling Trinamool.
Now with Mamata’s announcement to contest from Nandigram, it won’t be any easy task for Suvendu to ensure all the 35 assembly seats in West Midnapore and East Midnapore are bagged by the BJP.
Nandigram is the epicentre of the TMC’s politics and Mamata’s strategic move is certainly going to have an impact on all the 35 seats.
There are 16 assembly seats in East Midnapore, and 19 in West Midnapore.
In the 2016 assembly polls, the TMC won 13 seats in East Midnapore, including Nandigram which was bagged by Suvendu Adhikari, while three seats – Tamluk won by CPI’s Ashok Kumar Dinda and Panskura Purba and Haldia seats won by CPI(M)’s Sheikh Ibrahim Ali and Tapasi Mondal respectively– went to the Left Front.
In West Midnapore, the TMC won 17 seats, while one seat went to the BJP as Dilip Ghosh netted Kharagpur Sadar, and the Sabang seat was bagged by the Congress's Manas Bhunia who later joined the Trinamool.
Considering the TMC’s sweep in the 2016 assembly polls in West and East Midnapore and Mamata's decision now to contest from Nandigram, the ‘Adhikari family’ faces a massive challenge on its home turf from ‘Didi’, as Mamata is popularly known.
Already, there is rancour between the old BJP leaders and the TMC defectors in Bengal, and under such circumstances it will be a near do-or-die battle for Suvendu to secure his political career.
Recently, the organisational restructuring of the BJPs central unit sparked discontent as leaders like Rahul Sinha, who was dropped as national secretary to make way for another Trinamool turncoat, Anupam Hazra, expressed displeasure over party national president JP Nadda’s decision.
Also, BJP national vice president and former Mamata aide Mukul Roy’s differences with some influential leaders of the saffron party in Bengal including Dilip Ghosh is an open secret.
There has also been bitterness between TMC turncoat Saumitra Khan and Dilip Ghosh over selecting youth leaders. Recently, BJP leaders Sayantan Basu and Agnimitra Paul were issued show-cause notices for speaking against rebel TMC leader Jitendra Tiwari who quit the party, along with Suvendu, in the hope that he too would be absorbed into the saffron party. However, his plans went awry and he had to go back to Trinamool.
Dilip Ghosh and central minister Babul Supriyo too engaged in an ugly social media spat in July 2018 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Bengal to address a public rally in Midnapore.
Under such circumstances, despite the state BJP’s claim that all is well within the party, it will be a daunting task for Suvendu Adhikari to fulfill the expectations of top party leaders who backed him a lot more than they did other longtime BJP leaders.
Another challenge which Suvendu is going to face, after joining the BJP, is winning the Muslim vote share which is nearly 10 to 11 per cent in both West and East Midnapore.
For several months last year, before leaving Trinamool, Suvendu had been seen addressing rallies without using the TMC symbol and flag. In all the rallies, a sea of people chanting "Aamra Dadar Anugami (we are elder brother’s followers)" was seen marching behind him.
Twenty years of his association with Mamata came to an end on November 27, 2020, when he resigned from her cabinet.
Suvendu was a key man behind Mamata Banerjee’s land agitation in Nandigram in East Midnapore in 2007 which helped her end the 34-year Left Front rule in Bengal. Over the years, Mamata also gave due respect to him and his family members for their dedication towards the party.
His effort to strengthen TMC in the 'Rarh' region didn’t go unnoticed. From Member of Parliament, to state minister, to chairperson of co-operative banks – Mamata rewarded him for his struggle in Nandigram.
But why, despite Suvendu’s poor performance as district in-charge in Purulia, Jhargram, Murshidabad, Malda, East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Bankura and Bishnupur in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, was the BJP so keen to have Suvendu in its kitty?
The answer is Mamata came to power riding the wave of the anti-land acquisition movements in Nandigram and Singur, and the rival party wants to hit the TMC hard where it will hurt the most – with a strong anti-incumbency message.
But, for now, analysts say the BJP appears to be on the back foot with Mamata’s decision to contest from Nandigram.