Bengal Phase 2 Polls: Battle Royale in Nandigram, Amphan-Hit Areas
Nandigram will see a battle between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her once protege, BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari.
The second phase of polling for the West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021 will take place on 1 April. 30 constituencies across four districts are going to polls in this phase of the eight-phased election, which began on 27 March.
The remaining constituencies in Bankura, East Midnapore and West Midnapore, districts which went to polls in the first phase as well, will vote in the second phase.
Importantly, the district of South 24 Parganas will also see its first round of polling in this phase. South 24 Parganas will complete polling in three phases, more than any other district in the state. Here are the key highlights from this phase:
Battle Royale In Nandigram
The second phase of the election will see the most high-profile electoral contest this election season in Nandigram, part of the East Midnapore district.
Contesting from the constituency is Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee and her once protege, Suvendu Adhikari, now contesting for the BJP.
Nandigram also holds historical and political significance for both contenders. Both Suvendu and Mamata were part of a massive anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram in 2007 against the then Left Front government.
The protests by villagers in Nandigram against the government's bid to set up a SEZ on agricultural land was met with brutal repression by the Left. As a consequence, at least 14 people died in police firing and many are still missing. There have also been reports of sexual violence against women and government directed harassment of locals.
The run up to the elections in Nandigram has therefore been extremely high-pitched, with both parties going all out to win what has now become a prestige battle.
During her campaign in Nandigram earlier in March, Mamata Banerjee grievously injured herself and alleged that it was because of an "attack by the BJP". A claim first denied and then mocked by the saffron party.
After being rushed to Kolkata and being hospitalised for two days, Mamata Banerjee hit the campaign trail again with her leg in a cast, being ferried around in a wheelchair.
With a Muslim population of close to 30 percent, the election in Nandigram is being fought largely on the basis of religious polarisation.
As a result, Mamata Banerjee has gone on a whirlwind tour of temples in the constituency, visiting as many as 19 temples on one day. She also ensured that she visited a mazaar as well.
Meanwhile, in the days prior to polling, the BJP too went all-out in its campaign with Home Minister Amit Shah holding a competing roadshow with Banerjee on 30 March.
The BJP, which is looking to consolidate the Hindu votes in Nandigram, has based its campaign largely on what they call Banerjee's "Muslim appeasement" policy.
Suvendu has repeatedly referred to Banerjee as "begum", once even saying that she will turn Nandigram into Pakistan if she wins.
Amphan Ravaged Areas Of South 24 Parganas Go To Polls
Four constituencies in the South 24 Parganas go to polls in this phase of the elections. These are the constituencies of Gosaba, Patharpratima, Sagar and Kakdwip. All of these areas were heavily affected by Cyclone Amphan which hit southern Bengal in May 2020. Many places in these areas, which form a part of the Sunderbans delta lived without drinking water and electricity for days after the cyclone.
These areas also present a test for the ruling Trinamool Congress, which after Amphan, came under criticism as mid-level leaders in villages and municipalities were accused of siphoning away cyclone relief funds. Reports claimed that only those known to TMC strongmen or leaders received relief funds. In some cases, people with two-three storeyed houses were listed as Amphan fund beneficiaries.
While the Central leadership of the TMC publicly admonished these practices and took the respective leaders to task, the corruption was just seen as a continuing tradition in the party. The TMC has earlier been accused of taking "cut money" for welfare schemes and harboring the infamous ‘Syndicate Raj’ in the state. The Amphan relief scandal was therefore seen as just another similar tactic by the party.
The BJP has used corruption during Amphan and other allegations of corruption against the TMC as a big poll plank this election season.
Electorally, the party is trying to make inroads into the South 24 Parganas, a TMC stronghold. Even if the saffron brigade manages to hold on to its 2019 tally, it will need to make gains in South Bengal to be able to form government.
Lost in the din around Nandigram is the fact that almost half of the Junglemahal region - a SC/ST dominated region in the state- is also going to be polling in the second phase. Seats in Bankura and West Midnapore, part of the Junglemahal districts, will be polling on 1 April.
Of this, are eight segments in Bankura that the BJP led in during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Similarly, in the 2019 polls, the BJP also made massive gains in areas like Kharagpur in West Midnapore.
Additionally, Tamluk in East Midnapore, a bastion of the Adhikari family is also polling in this phase.
These constituencies are battleground constituencies for both the TMC and BJP. While the latter is looking to hold on to its leads in Junglemahal from 2019, the former is looking to win back at least some lost ground in order to not let the BJP sweep the region entirely.
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