West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took the game for the upcoming elections in the state up by many notches when she announced on 18 January that she will be contesting from the Nandigram seat.
"How would it be if I stand from Nandigram? I was thinking…hence I’m saying it. It is my wish. It’s a rural area. It is an area close to my heart. It is an area I love. I may not be able to give much time here during the elections because I’m fighting 294 seats. So, please handle this for me. And after elections, I will handle everything for you", said the Trinamool Congress supremo, at a party rally in Nandigram.
With the announcement, Mamata proved that she's the only Didi No. 1 in Bengal.
(Sorry, Rachana Banerjee!)
The announcement also came on the same day as the ABP C-Voter survey which gave the TMC 158 seats in the upcoming elections and the BJP a 102. The survey also gave the incumbent Chief Minister an approval rating of approximately 53 percent.
Mamata Banerjee, who has, since her last couple of terms, contested from the Bhawanipore constituency in South Kolkata has now said that she wants to contest from Nandigram in East Midnapore, a place that has historical ties to the rise of Trinamool Congress and the party’s crushing defeat of the Left Front in 2011. Here's why this announcement can turn the election on its head.
1. The Suvendu Factor
Well, firstly, it is a direct challenge to the BJP and undoubtedly their biggest optical trump card this election, former Trinamool honcho, Suvendu Adhikari.
A former Trinamool minister, Adhikari is presently the outgoing MLA from Nandigram and was a major part of the Nandigram movement against the Left starting 2007. He’s said to have massive influence in East and West Midnapore, but it must be noted that in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Trinamool lost both districts to the BJP under his leadership. The BJP now wants the national media and layman alike to think that with him on their side, both these districts are theirs.
But woh kehtein hain na? Baap baap hota hai. Or in this case, Didi, Didi hain. So while Suvendu was a major player in the Nandigram movement, Mamata was the face. And in a direct contest with the Supremo herself, Suvendu’s influence may not cause as much damage as the BJP would like.
On the other hand, Suvendu has taken up Mamata's challenge announcing that, irrespective of who stands from Nandigram, if the BJP doesn't defeat her by half a lakh votes, he will quit politics.
In what is turning out to be a prestige battle, what will suffer is Suvendu's availability as a star campaigner for BJP across the state.
2. Regaining Jangalmahal
The ripple effect of the Nandigram movement was felt across the Jangalmahal area of West Benga,l which in the 2011 and 2016 state elections, voted overwhelmingly for the TMC.
However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Jangalmahal seats of Purulia, Bankura, Pashchim Midnapore and Jhargram were lost to the BJP. In terms of assembly segments, this accounts for 44 seats.
A turnaround here would give the TMC the chance to reverse the 2019 trend and win back a crucial region lost to the BJP.
In addition to this, if the TMC can hold on to South Bengal, as it did in 2019 as well, this election could be in their kitty. The pressure point for the TMC here could be districts like Howrah and Hooghly with 16 and 18 assembly seats respectively where the BJP is steadily trying to make inroads by engineering large scale defections.
3. Winning The Optics
Is Mamata Banerjee nervous?
Well, the roaring announcement in Nandigram may have momentarily put that question to rest.
Visiting the area after 5 whole years, Mamata Banerjee has made it clear that the Nandigram movement was hers, and she alone will reap its benefits.
An open challenge to Suvendu Adhikari in his backyard is sure to boost the morale of the party and will ensure that TMC is dictating the election narrative, at least till the next electoral bomb goes off.
3 months to go for the elections. It’s game on!