Kolkata: Mamata Banerjee has apparently landed herself into the BJP trap of Hindu-Muslim politics as her address to Trinamool Congress workers on Tuesday revealed before filing her nomination for mixedly populated Nandigram on Wednesday.
Nandigram in East Midnapore district became the final springboard for Mamata’s leap to power along with Singur in neighboring Hooghly in 2011 following massive agitation against land acquisition for the big-ticket but controversial industry by Buddhadeb Bhattacharya government in the last leg of 34 years long left rule.
A decade after being in power, Bengal’s big sis is now confronting her local satrap turned BJP challenger Suvendu Adhikari in a prestige fight for a third term in the assembly polls that begins from March 27. The huge personal and political stakes have made the TMC supremo visibly desperate. So much so that she spent considerable time chanting Sanskrit Chandi Stotra (invocation of goddess Durga) to underline her Hindu credentials and bonafide claim of being a practicing devotee.
It’s not a Nandigram-specific act of playing to the tune of the BJP agenda. She has been churning out Chandi or Saraswati Vandana mantras in her election rallies elsewhere too. “Do they want to teach me about Hindu dharma? I don’t parrot some lines taught to me before rallies to impress voters or use teleprompters to make it sound impromptu. My mantras come to me naturally as I have memorized them since my childhood and practice them in my daily Pujas”, she blurted out.
It was her riposte to the prime minister and BJP mascot Narendra Modi who has not only grown his beard and hair to have a saintly look but also made it a point to quote from ‘our shastras’ in his poll campaign.
But the reigning Hindutva hero has no compulsion or intention to make a balance in his public show of religious affinity. Mamata has it in her special brand of secularism. So she named the religious symbols and places of worship for Muslims and all other minority communities. The catchline came at the end: “I am asking for support from all Mandirs and Masjids, Hindus and Muslims. Will you all vote for me and ensure Trinamool victory in this constituency and around?”
It was pathetic to listen to the chief minister that she had too little to claim for the developmental work for Nandigram except a college or two, a super-specialty hospital and a Kisan Mandi et al. She tried to rekindle the memory of Nandigram agitation and her role in it as the opposition leader. Around one and half decades have passed since then and the children have come to age looking for jobs. Mamata could not offer them much except promising to make Nandigram a world-renowned place again. She was Infuriated by Modi’s mocking over her scooty-ride to her office to highlight the soaring fuel prices and her eventual fall in Nandigram.
It is no coincidence that neither Modi could rattle the figures of jobs he had created in the six years of his rule at the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata a few days back while promising to make Bengal ‘Sonar Bangla’, a veritable El Dorado for the Army of jobless and other hapless people.
The demography and changing politics over it
The fact remains that Hindus and Muslims together fought for their land in this predominantly rural constituency with Haldia port and industrial belt close to it. It consists of two blocks. Both the blocks are Hindu-dominated but the Muslim population is higher in Block 1 (34%) in comparison to Block 2 (12%). Once a Congress Citadel, Nandigram turned to be a CPI base during LF rule. During the LF rule, CPIM strongman Lakshman Seth and former Tamluk MP ruled the roost in the port town and its rural catchment.
However, with the anti-land grab agitation surging ahead, Nandigram changed hands in 2009, two years before the left rout. TMC continued to win it with higher margins in 2011 (61%) and 2016 (67%) respectively. Young Subhendu Adhikary who became a close confidant of Mamata won both times. His family gradually replaced Seths as the de facto ruling family in the entire district by bagging power from parliament seats to municipalities.
The increasing clash of interests and ambitions mainly with Mamata’s nephew Abhishek, her heir apparent, led Shubhendu to sulk despite his inclusion in the cabinet. Meanwhile, the Adhikary family became edgy over BJP’s poll fortune in their fiefdom, albeit at the cost of the Left and Congress mainly. The saffron vote percentage had risen from a mere six percent in 2014 to almost 37 percent in 2019 in Tamluk parliamentary seat that includes Nandigram. It was 42 percent from eight percent during the period in the Kanthi constituency.
As the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo smelled blood in Bengal after BJP’s impressive tally in 2019, Subhendu was one of their prime targets among the influential defectors. The Duo’s carrot and stick policy that had been used for all the scam-tainted TMC leaders including Mukul Roy and Sobhan Chatterjee finally succeeded in netting Shuvendu just ahead of the polls.
Today Mamata’s former youth icon openly boasts of his pro-RSS inclinations since childhood and plays Hindutva cards blatantly. Before Modi spoke at the Brigade, Subhendu warned Hindus about Bengal becoming another Kashmir under Mamata and called her ‘aunt of infiltrators including Rohingyas’.
Laxman Seth is now a Congress candidate in Nandigram after trying his luck with BJP following his expulsion from CPM for corruption charges. Lefts are now in alliance with Congress and Indian Secular Front led by young Pirzada, Abbas Siddique. The Pirzada who shares CPM’s hatred of Mamata initially thought of queering her pitch in Nandigram by making a dent in Muslim votes. Now, he has reportedly settled for a bigger pie elsewhere.
Media reports say that Nandigram is in the vortex of religious politics. Hardly anybody remembers the heydays of Hindu-Muslim unity against the land acquisition and for a better future together. Hopefully, the poisonous poll-time narratives will not run deep in the social psyche and Nandigram will rise to the occasion before it is too late.