West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s bold call to take on her party’s most prominent defector to the BJP on his home turf will be put to the test today as the people of Nandigram go to vote along with 29 other constituencies in the second phase of state elections.
Authorities on Wednesday banned large gatherings in the constituency for what is easily the most high-profile contest of this election that has seen supporters of rival parties clash in recent months.
Thursday’s polling in West Bengal, home to 9 crore people, is central to a massive push by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party to oust Mamata Banerjee, a fierce critic of his government, powered by a battle of attrition and astonishing resources.
More than 75 lakh voters will decide the fate of 191 candidates in the 30 seats spread across four districts of Purba and Paschim Medinipur, South 24 Parganas and Bankura.
Ms Banerjee, 66, whose Trinamool Congress party ended three decades of communist rule in the state in 2011, is contesting the election in Nandigram against Suvendu Adhikari who switched to PM Modi’s BJP just three months before the elections.
The high-stakes showdown, turned into a prestige battle by both sides, in a state notorious for political violence saw the Election Commission ban gatherings of more than four people in a bid to ensure safety for voting, officials said.
Twenty two companies of paramilitary troops were deployed to the constituency, an Election Commission observer added.
The agrarian constituency in Purba Medinipur district had shaken the foundations of the mighty Left regime over the anti-farmland acquisition movement in 2007.
Ms Banerjee and Mr Adhikari had led the party’s movement to support local farmers in successfully thwarting the Left Front’s plans to set up a special economic zone for large chemical factories.
The Trinamool chief went on to be a giant slayer and became the Chief Minister after defeating the 34-year-old Left regime in 2011 and Mr Adhikari rose through her party to be a minister with three portfolios till he broke away.
For the Congress-Left alliance, 36-year-old Minakshi Mukherjee will take up the challenge to regain her front’s lost ground in Nandigram.
While Ms Banerjee had been camping in Nandigram for the last four days, BJP fielded its big guns, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and superstar Mithun Chakraborty to defend Mr Adhikari’s stronghold.
Besides Nandigram, also voting in the second phase is Sabang, where the Trinamool Congress has fielded its Rajya Sabha MP Manas Bhunia. He is up against Trinamool turncoat and BJP leader Amulya Maity.
The Trinamool has fielded actor Sayantika Banerjee, a popular face in the Bengali movies, from Bankura seat against BJP’s Niladri Sekhar Dana. The Sanjukta Morcha has fielded Congress candidate Radharani Banerjee.
In Debra, two former IPS officers will face-off. One is BJP candidate Bharati Ghosh and the other is Humayun Kabir of the Trinamool. Both had resigned from their senior police posts to join politics.
Polls are being held in West Bengal over eight phases amid tight security and conclude on April 29.
Results will be announced on May 2, alongside several other state and territory elections in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.