All eyes will be on Nandigram on Thursday where TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is locked in a fierce prestige battle with confidante-turned-adversary Suvendu Adhikari of the BJP when polling will be held in 30 seats in the second of the eight-phase West Bengal assembly election.
The agrarian constituency in Purba Medinipur district had shaken the foundations of the mighty Left regime over the anti-farmland acquisition movement in 2007. It has now turned into a battleground of titans with Ms Banerjee suddenly deciding to switch from her Bhowanipur seat in Kolkata to the constituency which is held by Mr Adhikari.
Ms Banerjee and Mr Adhikari, her lieutenant and Kanthi TMC MLA in 2007, had led the party’s movement to support local farmers in successfully thwarting the Left Front’s plans to set up a special economic zone for large chemical factories.
Ms Banerjee went on to be a giant slayer and became the chief minister after defeating the 34-year-old Left regime in 2011 and Mr Adhikari rose in TMCs echelons to be a minister with three portfolios till his separation from the party over his feeling that he was not given his due in the organization.
In the high stake poll battle this time a victory is a must for Ms Banerjee, who is running for the third successive term as chief minister, so that she can lead the government and keep together her party, which is faced with exodus.
For Mr Adhikari it is a battle for political survival as a defeat would be a devastating blow and might also put a question mark on his political graph in his new party the BJP. A victory would not only establish him as one of the tallest leaders in Bengal but would also push him few miles ahead of others in the chief ministerial race in case the BJP
is voted to power.
For the Congress-Left-ISF alliance candidate Minakshi Mukherjee, the challenge is to regain her party’s lost ground.
The Election Commision has declared as sensitive all the 10,620 polling booths in 30 constituencies spread over four districts where polls will be held on Thursday.
It has deployed around 651 companies of central force to provide security, besides state police personnel at strategic locations during the polling, which will begin at 7 am, sources in the poll body said.
More than 75 lakh voters will decide the fate of 191 candidates in the 30 seats spread across four districts of Purba and Paschim Medinipur, South 24 Parganas and Bankura.
A total 199 companies of Central Armed Police Force will be deployed in Purba Medinipur, 210 companies in Paschim Medinipur, 170 in South 24 Parganas and 72 in Bankura, the sources said.
TMC and BJP are contesting in all the 30 seats, while CPI(M) is in the fray in 15 and its alliance partners in the Sanjukta Morcha the Congress and ISF are competing in 13 and two seats respectively.
Polling will take place amid strict COVID-19 guidelines in nine seats of Paschim Medinipur, eight in Bankura, four seats in South 24 Parganas and nine seats in Purba Medinipur – the home ground Suvendu Adhikari. Nandigram is in Purba Medinipur district.
While Ms Banerjee had been camping in Nandigram for the last four days, BJP fielded its “big guns”, including home minister Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and superstar Mithun Chakraborty to defend Mr Adhikari’s turf, whih he had won in 2016 and take on “Didi” (as Mamata is popularly called).
Apart from identity politics and Bengali sub-nationalism, the demand for jobs, inclusion of Hindu backward communities in the OBC category and setting up of agro-based industry have emerged as main poll planks in the second phase of polls.
Of the 30 seats which will see voting on Thursday, 23 were won by TMC in the 2016 assembly elections, five by Left Front and Congress and BJP one each.
The political equation in the state had changed in 2019 when BJP made massive inroads in the tribal-dominated Jangal Mahal region and Medinipur belt by sweeping all the five Lok Sabha seats. The TMC, however, has been able to maintain its dominance in South 24 Parganas district, where there is sizeable minority population.
A notable seat going to the poll in the second phase is Sabang, where TMC has fielded its Rajya Sabha MP Manas Bhunia. He is up against TMC turncoat and BJP leader Amulya Maity.
Mr Bhunia, a former state Congress president, had won the seat from 1982 till 2016 as Congress nominee before switching over to the TMC in September 2016.
TMC has fielded actor Sayantika Banerjee, a popular face in the Bengali silver screen, from Bankura seat against BJP’s Niladri Sekhar Dana. The Sanjukta Morcha has fielded Congress candidate Radharani Banerjee.
In Debra seat, two former IPS officers will cross swords. One is BJP candidate Bharati Ghosh and the other is Humayun Kabir of the TMC. Both had resigned from their senior police posts to join active politics.
Ms Banerjee, who has been injured in her leg during campaigning earlier this month, crisscrossed the majority of the constituencies where poll will be held on Thursday in her wheelchair.
TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee toured the rest asserting that TMC will not let Bengal to be ruled from Delhi or Gujarat in an apparent reference to the battery of central BJP leaders and ministers camping in the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP national president JP Nadda had led BJP”s campaign from the front addressing rallies at Kanthi, Bankura and Nandigram and urging the electorate to vote for BJP to usher in “ashol poriborton” (actual change) to build “Sonar Bangla” (prosperous Bengal).