In a crucial electoral battle in West Bengal, the chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Suvendu Adhikari, a former Trinamool Congress leader, will fight for the Nandigram constituency on 1 April. The seat holds a key place in the state’s history—once a Left dominated region, it became central to Banerjee’s rise to power in 2011, after the TMC galvanised protests against the incumbent Left Front government in a mass movement against land acquisition. Among Banerjee’s supporters at the time were the families of 14 villagers who were killed in police firing in 2007 during a crackdown against the protest. Though the families of these villagers had previously always supported the TMC, conversations with many of them revealed that their allegiances seem to be shifting. In a political climate marked by religious polarisation, the families of the Nandigram martyrs, too, appeared divided on the same lines—the Muslim families remained loyal to the TMC, while the Hindus were angry with Banerjee.
At noon on 25 March, the usually quiet roads of Nandigram were abuzz with activity. Women, clad in saffron sarees with lotus flowers printed all over, were marching like a regiment. The men, many in white t-shirts with the same symbol or a cap with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s logo, were playing dhols—drums—and bansuris—flutes— among other local musical instruments. The air was filled with enthusiasm and energy. Every three-four hundred metres, such groups were coming out of their localities and taking the road towards Sona Chura, a village in the Nandigram administrative block.
These marches—that resembled a saffron carnival—culminated at an open field near the Tekhali Bridge, where the scene was another sea of saffron. A massive saffron and green tent, erected on the fields, to accommodate an audience of three to five thousand people was filled. This jubilant crowd of thousands, who had gathered from three assembly constituencies in and around Nandigram, had come to hear a campaign speech by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath. When Adityanath’s chopper landed, the crowd welcomed it with chants of Jai Shree Ram.
The response to the rally was a sign of the support for the BJP in Nandigram and the close electoral battle between Suvendu and Banerjee. Suvendu, a two-time member of parliament from the TMC, was once considered a close confidante of Banerjee and was her commander-in-chief in Nandigram. In December 2020, Adhikari quit the TMC and joined the BJP.
Prior to 2007, the Nandigram assembly constituency, in the East Midnapore district, was a strong-hold of the Left Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). That began to change after the Left Front government proposed the area as a site for a chemical factory to be built by the Salim group, an Indonesian conglomerate. Villagers rose in protest and Nandigram became the site of a mass movement against land acquisition. The TMC played a key role in spurring the protest against the Left Front. A similar movement took place in Singur, a village in the Hooghly district, against land acquisition for the Tata group’s Nano car plant. The Singur and Nandigram movements became a watershed moment in Bengal’s history and played a crucial role in Banerjee’s rise to power.