NEW DELHI: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Friday declared the names of 291 candidates for the 294-member state assembly. Banerjee would contest from Nandigram, the constituency held by her former loyalist Suvendu Adhikari who crossed over to the BJP in December last year.
Banerjee has left her traditional seat of Bhowanipore. The TMC has fielded Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay from her home turf.
The remaining three seats of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong have been left for TMC’s alliance partner Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
Though the BJP has not officially revealed the name of the candidate who would contest from Nandigram, Adhikari would be her likely opponent. He had accepted the gauntlet thrown by Banerjee and announced that if he could not defeat her by half a lakh votes, he would quit politics.
Adhikari is a two-term former Lok Sabha MP and a two-term former MLA. He was elected as an MLA first from Kanthi Dakshin in May 2006.
He contested the 2009 Lok Sabha election on a TMC ticket from Tamluk and won. He vacated his assembly seat in May 2009.
Adhikari fought the 2014 Lok Sabha election from the same constituency and won. However, he gave up his Lok Sabha seat to contest the assembly election from Nandigram in 2016. He trounced Abdul Kadir Sheikh, the joint candidate of the Left Front and the Congress alliance.
He resigned from his Nandigram seat on December 16 last year and is likely to be fielded by the BJP from the same seat.
The Mamata-Adhikari battle in Nandigram would be one of the most keenly watched contest in the West Bengal elections.
Mamata Banerjee’s contest with Suvendu Adhikari would catch the maximum eyeballs because the latter is quite popular among the masses in Nandigram constituency of East Medinipur and she herself is the state chief minister as well as the TMC chief.
In fact, Adhikari was the face of the Nandigram movement of 2007 when the Left Front government tried to acquire land to be converted to a special economic zone. A clash broke out between the locals and the police in which several people lost their lives. This agitation catapulted Mamata Banerjee to power and ended the 34-year-rule of the CPM in the state.
Now, Adhikari has the full backing of the BJP and Union home minister Amit Shah. With his personal popularity and the BJP’s might, Adhikari is likely to put up a strong challenge to Mamata.
On the other hand, Mamata is known as a fierce street fighter. She quit the Congress and founded the TMC. She built the party from scratches and succeeded in defeating the Left Front government in 2011 and retained power in 2016 assembly elections.
Suvendu Adhikari was once considered close to her. However, he started distancing himself from Mamata Banerjee because of the influence that her nephew Abhishek Banerjee wielded in the party. He finally quit the party last year and joined the BJP along with 40 supporters in the presence of Amit Shah.
The high-voltage election is a do-or-die battle for both Mamata Banerjee and Suvendu Adhikari and these are the four scenarios:
1. Both Mamata and TMC win
If both Mamata and TMC win, it would be a great vindication of the TMC supremo’s stand. Her stature would also grow on the national level.
The other opposition parties are likely to rally behind Mamata who would emerge as one of the most serious challengers to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the next Lok Sabha elections. She already has the support of parties such as the RJD, AAP, Shiv Sena and JMM.
Conversely, the results would be the biggest loss of face not just for the BJP but also for Suvendu Adhikari personally.
2. Mamata wins but TMC loses
It is possible that Mamata may win from Nandigram but her TMC may lose to the BJP.
In such a scenario, though she would win personally, she would lose power. She would have to be content with becoming the leader of opposition in the state assembly.
On the other side, though the BJP would come to power, its win would remain incomplete as one of its prominent faces would have lost.
3. TMC wins but Mamata loses
There is a possibility of the TMC winning the elections but Mamata losing to Suvendu Adhikari from Nandigram. This would be akin to a defeat of the TMC as the battle would have been won but at the cost of the general.
TMC may still go on to elect Mamata as their leader and she would become the chief minister. One of the TMC MLAs may resign and allow Mamata to fight election within six months.
4. Both Mamata and TMC lose
Both Mamata Banerjee and her TMC losing the elections would be the worst case scenario for them. Conversely, it would be both Suvendu Adhikari and the BJP’s most comprehensive victory.
While the BJP would come to power, Adhikari would become a “giant killer” and would be handed a key portfolio in the government.
West Bengal would vote in eight phases from March 27 and the fate of Mamata Banerjee, TMC, Suvendu Adhikari and the BJP would be known on May 2.