West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her once-trusted aide Suvendu Adhikari both owe a lot to Nandigram for their political identity in the state. The movement against Tata’s Nano project in Singur and Nandigram was greatly instrumental in catapulting Mamata to power in 2011 and also in making Suvendu a powerful leader in the region.
Ten years down the line, the people of the region still seem to be debating if opposition to industry was the right thing to do. Some who got their lands back and successfully returned to farming are a happy lot. But several others who could not gain substantially from farming have been left wondering if industry would have been a better option.
And while the “farming versus industry” division of the population is one aspect of the region’s politics, there is another divide that is being talked about in Nandigram in the run up to the 2021 assembly elections – the 70:30 division.
Suvendu Adhikari, the BJP candidate for Nandigram, in one of his election rallies in January claimed that Mamata’s political strategist Prashant Kishor had said that Trinamool Congress will get complete support of 30 per cent of the population, a reference to the minorities in the state of West Bengal.
Adhikari then went on to appeal to the remaining 70 per cent of the population to stay united and defeat the ruling Trinamool in the state. With the BJP aggressively targeting Mamata over appeasement politics, the Trinamool chief has been forced to do course correction with temple visits and doles to Hindu priests in the run up to the election.
So, will the voters of Nandigram get influenced by the “farming versus industries” debate or are they likely to get polarised on religious lines?
Nandigram over the years has seen some close contests suggesting that religious polarisation may not have been the dominant factor during voting. In 1996, the Congress won this seat by only 138 votes (.11 per cent). In fact, the victory margin has been less than 10 per cent in Nandigram in several other assembly elections between 1977 and 2011.
However, in the 2016 assembly elections, Suvendu Adhikari won the seat on a TMC ticket by over 80,000 votes which translated into a victory margin of 40.30 per cent. In 2011 also, the TMC’s victory margin was 43,640 votes, which translated into 25.42%.
Here is a look at the victory margin for winners in Nandigram over the years.
But the political dynamics of Nandigram has changed dramatically between 2016 and 2021.
While the TMC has been way ahead in the last two assembly elections riding on the Nano agitation, this time around the party has lost its winning horse- the Adhikaris who wield immense clout in the region.
The BJP on the other hand has reasons to be hopeful.
The people of Nandigram assembly segment voted in large numbers for the party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And with Adhikaris on its side, the BJP is confident of defeating Mamata
Nandigram is a part of Tamluk Lok Sabha seat, which was won by Suvendu Adhikari’s brother Dibyendu of the Trinamool Congress in 2019.
Dibyendu Adhikari polled 7,24,433 votes while BJP’s Sidharthashankar Naskar was second with 5,34,268 votes in Tamluk Lok Sabha seat.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Tamluk Lok Sabha seat was won by TMC leader Suvendu Adhikari, who polled 7,16,928 votes. However, CPM’s Sekh Ibrahim Ali with 4,70,447 votes was at the second position while BJP candidate Badsha Alam could manage only 86,265 votes and was in the third position.
A comparison of the votes polled by the BJP in Nandigram shows that the party’s vote count increased from 10,798 votes in 2014 to 62,268 votes in 2019.
Significantly, the CPM, which got 4,1735 votes in Nandigram in 2014, saw its count reduced to 9,353 in 2019.
Clearly, there was a shift away from the CPM in 2019 and the beneficiary of that shift was the BJP.
The BJP would hope to build on its success of 2019 and defeat Mamata in Adhikari’s bastion.