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Mamata versus Suvendu battle could determine the course of Bengal politics

In the most high-profile battle of this Bengal election, Nandigram will go to vote today. Rightly billed as a titanic clash between CM Banerjee and her aide-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari, the fight here is replete with symbolism. For, it was at Nandigram in East Midnapore district in 2007 that Mamata – then ably aided by Suvendu – sowed the seeds of the 34-year-old Left Front government’s downfall through an anti-land-acquisition agitation. Things have come full circle as the result in Nandigram will once again have repercussions for rest of Bengal.

Both TMC and BJP have pulled out all stops in Nandigram. After all, Mamata’s defeat here would be a huge blow to her legacy. It will also catapult Suvendu to the top of the Bengal BJP leadership, possibly giving him first claim over the CM’s post if the saffron outfit wins the whole state. But a victory for Mamata in Nandigram will considerably boost TMC cadre and put her in control of the political narrative in Bengal, even if TMC is relegated to the opposition after the polls. For, Nandigram will allow Mamata to retreat to her old agitationist mode of politics, ensuring TMC’s survival even outside of power.

Of course, Mamata could win both Nandigram and Bengal, in which case she would have successfully stopped BJP’s inroads into her bastion. But Mamata putting all her chips on Nandigram without a safe seat to fall back on also shows how keen she is to quash Suvendu’s political rise – the Adhikaris are a political dynasty in their own right with Suvendu’s father and brother long representing East Midpanore seats in the assembly and Parliament. Mamata’s victory in Nandigram will diminish their influence while her defeat would make them stronger than ever.

Which is why the campaign here has been quite shrill, particularly in Nandigram II block where both Mamata and Suvendu have been concentrating their energies to woo the majority Hindu vote. But Nandigram’s subpar development status is something both Mamata and Suvendu have to answer for, even though each is blaming the other for the current state of affairs. One thing is certain: After the Nandigram contest, Mamata will be free to campaign more vigorously across other parts of the state. And now focus will shift to Singur – another symbolically significant constituency for the governing party – where too BJP has fielded a former TMC MLA.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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