Nandigram: Trinamool's stronghold, one family's stranglehold
From a Left Front fortress to Trinamool Congress's stronghold, Nandigram has had a chequered history. This small hamlet in Bengal's East Midnapore district was the epicentre of Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee's land movement and it was from here that her rise to power began. Nandigram has seen a lot of violence. Scores of people were killed in the aftermath of a forcible land acquisition exercise by the Left in 2007. The farmers put up a strong resistance and formed the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee, and have since shifted loyalties to Trinamool.
Now, one family holds the reigns of Nandigram and East Midnapore as a whole. Subhendu Adhikari, Tamluk MP and now Trinamool's candidate from Nandigram, is the face of the family. Subhendu's grip over the district has been strengthening over the past years and his family's clout has increased manifold. Party supremo Mamata Banerjee has handed him the responsibility of all 16 seats in the district, which go to the polls on Thursday.
Besides Nandigram and 15 other seats in East Midnapore, nine in Cooch Behar district will also go to the polls on Thursday.
The Nandigram seat was earlier represented by Firoza Biwi, whose son was killed in the police firing of March 2007. This time, however, Trinamool supremo Banerjee has put up Subhendu, uprooting him from being one of the young faces of the party in the Lok Sabha. Banerjee's decision paved the way for her nephew, Abhishek, to be the lone young face of Trinamool in Delhi. Sources said the decision did not go down well with Subhendu. When Asianet Newsable asked him about this, however, Subhendu said, "No, no. This was Mamata Banerjee's decision. She actually wants to induct me into her cabinet in future."
Subhendu and his family have ruled the roost in Nandigram and nearby constituencies ever since protests gained momentum in the area after the events of 2007 and 2008 in Nandigram. His father, Sisir Adhikari, was a two-time MP from Contai and a minister in the UPA-II government. One of his brothers, Dibyendu, is a South Contai MLA contesting on a Trinamool ticket, while another brother, Soumendu, is chairman of the Kanthi municipality.
Subhendu himself is chairman of the Haldia Development Authority (HDA). The HDA, which is under the state government, is responsible for the development of infrastructure and providing land to industries from its land bank.
Of the 16 Assembly seats in East Midnapore, the agency's jurisdiction is over eight. When the Left Front was in power, the HDA covered three Assembly constituencies, but its scale and scope of function expanded under Trinamool rule. Subhendu acquired undisputed clout in the area as chairman of the HDA. The HDA chairman's post is important because of the presence of many industries in Haldia.
At a rally in East Midnapore's Tamluk on Monday, Subhendu said he would remain chairman of the HDA as long as Mamata Banerjee was chief minister, an assertion that is being seen as a pressure tactic to retain his grip on the important industrial town.
Despite Subhendu's boast, Banerjee, it appears, had plans of inducting him into the cabinet if Trinamool won, but the Narada sting had cast a shadow of uncertainty on it. A man resembling the Tamluk MP was seen accepting cash from the agent of a fictitious company in the sting operation.
While in Nandigram, the opposition seems to have no chance of winning, internal bickering within the party has made the Trinamool's position weak in some of the other seats, said sources. Speaking to Asianet Newsable over the telephone, Subhendu scotched rumours of internal strife and said, "We are a strong organisation and there is no internal bickering. We are very much hopeful of winning all the seats in East Midnapore."
On Tuesday, as the gruelling month-long election campaign in Bengal finally wrapped up before the last phase of assembly polls is held on Thursday, Subhendu made his final pitch to voters. His parting words to the crowd were an appeal for a larger margin for the Trinamool than the party's score in 2011.
Trinamool had won all 16 seats in the district in the 2011 Assembly elections. Firoza Biwi had won Nandigram by a margin of 43,000 votes, a lead Subhendu doubled to 87,000 in the same Assembly segment in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Subhendu's goal now is a 1 lakh-plus margin say sources. Subhendu, however, told Asianet Newsable, "We won by a margin of over 40,000 votes in 2011. This time, we hope to increase that margin."
Ironically, the man who was accused of involvement in the forcible "recapture" of Nandigram in 2007, and was once the Trinamool's most hated, Lakshman Seth, might just help the Trinamool achieve their aim, at least in Haldia. A former CPM MP, Seth was expelled from that party in March 2014 for speaking out publicly against former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. He floated the Bharat Nirman Party, which is contesting the polls in Haldia. Trinamool sources said they hoped Seth would eat into the Opposition votes and give the ruling party a comfortable margin. Asked about this, Subhendu told Asianet Newsable, "This is a hypothetical question. Please wait till after the poll results."