- Nandigram is the stronghold of Suvendu Adhikari, who crossed over to BJP
- Mamata Banerjee also hinted at contesting a second seat
- The BJP mocked her for switching seats and called it a sign of nervousnes
Mamata Banerjee will contest the Bengal election from Nandigram and vacate her existing seat of Bhowanipore in Kolkata as she takes on the challenge flung at her by Suvendu Adhikari, her one-time right hand man who crossed over to the BJP in December.
"I will contest from Nandigram as I stick to my words. From Bhowanipore constituency, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay will be contesting in the upcoming Assembly elections," said the Bengal Chief Minister, announcing candidates for the election starting March 27.
"This is a smiley election," she quipped, suggesting that winning would be a breeze.
Curiously, she hinted at contesting a second seat, though not Bhowanipore. While reading out the names of candidates, when she came to the Tollygunge seat, she said: "I can also contest". But her party clarified that she was joking with Aroop Biswas, the candidate from that seat who has also served as minister in her government.
Whether she does or not, the most important contest of this election has been set up at Nandigram, with the Chief Minister taking the fight straight to the BJP and, symbolically, all those who ditched her for the BJP. Nandigram is the stronghold of Suvendu Adhikari, who had challenged his former mentor to face him in the constituency. Mr Adhikari was virtually the architect of the ouster of the Left from Nandigram in 2007 after a bloody battle over land rights of farmers in the area where the CPM government wanted to set up a chemical hub. Trinamool's sweep in Nandigram in 2007 is one of the key factors that catapulted Mamata Banerjee to power in 2011.
Mr Adhikari is the BJP's most important acquisition in Bengal, where the party has launched an all-in campaign to oust the two-time Chief Minister from power.
"I seek the blessings of people. I appeal to Maa Maati Manush for your faith," Mamata Banerjee said, turning to the slogan that first catapulted her to power.
Last evening, Suvendu Adhikari told the BJP leadership that he was confident of defeating Mamata Banerjee by "at least 50,000 votes" in Nandigram. But a final decision on fielding him against the top Trinamool face has been left to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to sources.
Mamata Banerjee had teased a Nandigram fightback on 18 January at a rally there, weeks after Mr Adhikari deserted her. "I will contest from Nandigram. Nandigram is my lucky place," she had said, urging voters of her Bhowanipore constituency to understand her decision.
"Nandigram is my big sister, Bhowanipore is my younger sister...I will fight from both if possible. If I am unable to contest from Bhowanipore, some other good candidate will," she had later added.
The BJP mocked her for switching seats, for planning to fight in two seats and called it a sign of nervousness.
"A nervous Mamata Banerjee not only deserts her traditional seat of Bhowanipore but also keeps the option of contesting Tollygunge open. In the press she slips in, 'I may contest too" while announcing Arup Biswas's name for the seat!" tweeted BJP's Amit Malviya.
A nervous Mamata Banerjee not only deserts her traditional seat of Bhowanipore but also keeps the option of contesting Tollygunge open. In the press she slips in, "I may contest too" while announcing Arup Biswas's name for the seat!— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) March 5, 2021
Pishi is sensing defeat...#PaliyeGeloMamatapic.twitter.com/qrfF8nChg6
Ms Banerjee also announced candidates on 291 of 294 seats; three hill constituencies of Darjeeling, Kurswon and Kalimpong have been left for "friendly parties".
No candidate above 80 will contest from the Trinamool Congress, the Chief Minister announced.
"We have had to drop a few very old friends. We are thankful to them," she said.
Among prominent candidates is former IPS officer Humayun Kabir, who had arrested three BJP workers for raising "Goli Maaro (shoot the traitor)" slogans at a rally in Chandannagar, where he was police chief. Actors Sayoni Ghosh, Sayantika Banerjee and June Maliah are among a multitude of TV and movie stars contesting the election. So is cricketer Manoj Tiwary.
Ms Banerjee said the Trinamool has fielded 50 women, 35 Muslim candidates, 79 Scheduled Caste candidates and 17 Scheduled Tribe candidates.
The Bengal election will take place over eight rounds and 33 days in a marathon schedule that the Trinamool alleges was stretched on directions from PM Modi and other top BJP leaders.
"Let them hold the election in 294 phases. We will still win," Mamata Banerjee said, adding, "Hum kehlenge, larenge aur jitenge".
The results will be out on May 2.