By Arun Srivastava
Political experts and pollsters are busy deciphering the implication of Mamata Banerjee campaigning at a stretch for five days in her new electoral abode Nandigram. If for some it is the sign of her fighting the battle with her back to the wall, some are also looking at this as the success of the strategy of the BJP to her confined to one constituency. They argue that Mamata could well have used this time frame for going around in the state.
Apparently their argument has enough significance. But for reaching to a politically correct extrapolation one has to be pragmatic. One ought to not to forget that since 2011 Nandigram has come to represent the aspiration of the people of rural Bengal. While BJP focused on this area in 2016, it paid especial attention on the region during the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Even before the 2021 election to the state assembly was formally announced, Nandigram was projected as the epicentre for transformation and change. The BJP leadership, especially Amit Shah, as the president of the party has been putting maximum thrust on the region. It has got electoral relevance. The RSS has been active in the tribal belt of Jharkhand-Bengal and Bihar for more than 60 years. It has floated many frontal organisations to interact with the Adivasis. In Bengal it has been working in the areas of Purulia, Medinipur, Jhargram for pretty long time. Over the years the RSS has managed to build its support base. Obviously the RSS has been certain that the BJP would be able to present a tough challenge to Mamata in this region.
It cannot be denied that Amit Shah projected Nandigram as the BJP’s symbol to challenge the rule of Mamata. As she came to power on the strength of her performance at Nandigram, in the perception of Shah it could be used to depict her decline. Yet another factor that worked for Modi and Shah to present Nandigram as the focal point of challenge to the rule and politics of Mamata has been the importance of its impact on the geopolitical and geostrategic dynamics of the state and beyond
Technically and also numerically the defeat of a TMC candidate in Nandigram would not have made much impact on the performance of the party. But it would have certainly eroded the moral strength of Mamata. This was the reason that at least seven union ministers have been consistently visiting the constituency. One union minister and a senior BJP leader has been camping here. Barely a week back a group of senior RSS and BJP leaders besides nearly 15 union ministers were deputed here to move around and monitor the situation.
The central leadership of BJP decided to field the turn coat Subhendu Adhikari from Nandigram as the representative of the TMC rebellions against Mamata. The phrase “the battle for the soul of Bengal” has acquired new dimension and dynamics. The fear of uncertainty has also gained resonance and urgency because of the fear of unpredictable developments. Little doubt BJP has made it one of the most significant electoral contests in recent memory.
The significance of the results, its consequences beyond Bengal’s borders has been the most domineering factor for choosing Nandigram. Mamata’s decision to contest from Nandigram has surprised the political circle. She could have contested from her traditional safe seat. Instead she chose to come to Nandigram. This obviously makes explicit the reason. Why she would have stretched out her neck when she has other safe alternative?
Mamata Banerjee winning Nandigram seat has been of paramount importance not only for her survival in the politics, but putting a clog in the BJP’s juggernaut. Nandigram has provided her with the right opportunity to establish her as the leader who has the guts to challenge the autocratic rule of Modi. It is also significant for yet another reason. She has challenged the hegemonic politics of Modi and also assertion of rightist forces.
If BJP has kept her confined to Nandigram, the same applies to the BJP. Both the star campaigners of BJP, Modi and Shah have been spending most of their time and energy in Nandigram or surrounding areas. One thing is absolutely clear that she is aware that she needs to win to keep her party alive at a time the BJP is leaving no stone unturned to engineer defections in the TMC and trying to present her as abject loser.
If for the BJP, a saffron Bengal is critical to establish a pan-India presence, it is equally important that the secular character of the state ought to be maintained at any cost. BJP has been engaged in mind game and desperately trying to create the narrative that it is coming to power in Bengal with 200-plus seats (the state has 294 seats). Even though its theory of “double-engine government”, at the Centre and in the state has miserably failed as the states where the BJP has been in power have failed to perform, Modi and Shah have been harping on it. It is basically to conceal the failures of the Modi government.
BJP focusing on Nandigram has one very significant reason. The leadership is aware that it would have to face a tough challenge from the Bhadralok section of the people of Bengal in case it opted to launch its campaign from Kolkata. This section would not accept any kind of watering down of its cultural and social ethos. Nandigram would be the most vulnerable point which suits its needs. The BJP even raised the issue of identity crisis. It resorted to the caste politics.
Naturally the TMC has to fall back on its most prominent and dependable asset; Mamata Banerjee. By deciding to contest from there she has sent a strong message to TMC workers and also the voters of all the 294 assembly constituencies. Her travelling across the state on a wheelchair with her leg plastered, narrating her achievements and countering the narrative spun by the “outsider” BJP, has served the interest of the party more effectively.