Nandigram in West Bengal is gearing up for an interesting electoral battle between chief minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee and her protégé-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari. The rural seat is one of 30 constituencies that will go to polls on Thursday in the second phase of Assembly elections.
These constituencies are situated in South 24 Parganas, Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purba Medinipur districts.
The CPI(M) has also put up a candidate in the high-stakes battle in Nandigram. Minakshi Mukherjee is the joint candidate of Left-ISF-Congress in the fray.
Adhikari is the sitting MLA from Nandigram. He quit the TMC and joined Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in December last year. Adhikari played a key role in the TMC's 2007 anti-land acquisition protest in Nandigram as the ground-level strategist that contributed to the defeat to the Left government after over three decades.
On Tuesday, the last day of campaigning for the second phase, both the TMC and BJP put in all their might to woo the voters ahead of the voting. Union home minister Amit Shah and actor Mithun Chakraborty held roadshows in support on Adhikari.
Shah also fired a political salvo at Banerjee. "If Mamata Didi is defeated by a mammoth margin in Nandigram, the Bengal polls are won. That is the easiest way to bring poriborton (change) in Bengal," he said.
Banerjee crisscrossed the constituency, addressing public meetings. She accused the BJP of "bringing in ruffians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar". She also singled out Adhikari and repeatedly called him a traitor.
For the first time since her leg injury on March 10, Banerjee left her wheelchair and stood up at one of her rallies for a few minutes to sing the national anthem.
Adhikari, meanwhile, said Banerjee has a habit of lying. "She (Mamata Banerjee) has a habit of lying. She should talk about issues like employment and investment," the BJP candidate was quoted as saying by news agency ANI. "The begum's defeat is written on the wall," he later said at a rally, referring to Banerjee as a Muslim empress.
For Adhikari, the election in an acid test. His father Sisir Adhikari, the octogenarian Lok Sabha member from East Midnapore's Contai, joined the BJP on March 21 and represents the local parliamentary seat.
Banerjee is contesting from Nandigram this time and not from her home turf Bhabanipur seat, making this election more interesting.
The first phase of the West Bengal Assembly elections concluded with an estimated 79.79 per cent voter turnout on Saturday. The polling for 31 seats in the third phase of the 294-member state assembly will be held on April 6.
The elections for 44 seats will be held in the fourth phase on April 10. Further, in the fifth phase on April 17, 45 seats will go to polls. The sixth phase is scheduled for April 22 when elections for 43 seats will be done. In the seventh phase on April 26, polling will be held for 36 seats. Finally, the eighth phase is scheduled for April 29 when 35 seats will go for polling.