- Nandigram is the constituency of Suvendu Adhikari
- Mamata Banerjee's decision is a sign of her "nervousness": BJP
- In the last election, she had contested from Bhabanipur in Kolkata
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced today that she will contest the Bengal election from Nandigram, the epicenter of a farmers' movement that propelled her to power in the state 10 years ago. Challenge accepted, said her former right hand man Suvendu Adhikari, who represented Nandigram but crossed over to the BJP last month.
"I will contest from Nandigram. Nandigram is my lucky place," Mamata Banerjee said, addressing a public meeting in the town for the first time in five years.
She urged voters of Bhawanipore, her current constituency, to bear with her. It was important for her to contest Nandigram as her party had to fight on all 294 assembly seats of Bengal, she said.
"Bhawanipore, please don't feel sad. I will give you a good candidate," the 66-year-old promised. Later in her speech, she indicated that she may contest from both constituencies and said, "Nandigram is my big sister, Bhawanipore is my younger sister... I will fight from both if possible. In case I am unable to contest from Bhawanipore, someone else would contest."
Shortly afterwards, it was BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari's turn to match the dramatic announcement with one of his own. "If I can't defeat her by half lakh votes, I will quit politics," he declared in Kolkata.
Mamata Banerjee's campaign to protect farmers' land from a proposed economic zone project in Nandiram powered her campaign for the 2011 assembly election, which she won by a landslide, dislodging the decades-old Left Front government.
In 2007, 14 were killed in clashes in Nandigram between protesting farmers and the police. In the subsequent election, Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress crafted the "Ma, Maati, Manush" campaign around that incident.
The Chief Minister's return to Nandigram is a direct challenge to Suvendu Adhikari, who has led an exodus of Trinamool leaders to the BJP over the past few weeks. Over 40 Trinamool Congress leaders joined Mr Adhikari as he defected to the BJP in a mega rally in December in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Over the years, Mr Adhikari emerged as one of the Trinamool's top leaders because of his clout in Nandigram, which made the party almost unbeatable in rural Bengal. In 2007, Mr Adhikari snatched Nandigram from the Left, catapulting the Trinamool to power.
In the approaching state election, the Nandigram battle will be a defining one for Ms Banerjee as she takes on her once-trusted lieutenant, now one of the BJP's prime movers in Bengal.
Ms Banerjee accused the BJP of luring her party men by promising to whitewash their record. "BJP leaders are saying if you're with the Trinamool you'll be in jail but if you join BJP, it's a washing machine. You will come out clean. Washing powder Bhajapa (BJP), washing powder Bhajapa. TMC mein kaala (black in Trinamool), BJP washing machine mein shaada (white in BJP washing machine)," she said to a roaring crowd.
The BJP saw Ms Banerjee's decision as a sign of nervousness and also targeted her for taking into the party a former police officer accused in the Nandigram firing.
"Mamata Banerjee's decision to shift seat from Bhowanipore to Nandigram, for the first time in 10 years, indicates her political nervousness... Will she explain why IPS Satyajit Bandopadhyay, chargesheeted by CBI for firing on protesting farmers in Nandigram, was inducted in TMC?" tweeted Amit Malviya, the BJP's social media head and in-charge of Bengal.
The BJP says Ms Banerjee's original constituency has a mix of Gujarati and Bengali voters, and she may face a more difficult contest in Bhawanipur this time.
Some analysts say Ms Banerjee's move is a masterstroke. She has cornered Mr Adhikari. He has to either contest against her and face certain defeat or go looking for a safer seat, which will make him look distinctly weak. Others, however, say the so-called masterstroke is anything but. It has made Mr Adhikari her direct rival. Till now, junior Trinamool leaders were taking him on. Now, the chief will.