Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee may face a contest with her former top aide Suvendu Adhikari, who defected to the BJP, in the high-stakes election starting in weeks. At a strategy meeting last evening featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP discussed fielding Mr Adhikari in Nandigram, one of the two seats Mamata Banerjee has pledged to contest.
The other candidate discussed in the meeting held to finalise names for initial rounds of voting was Babul Supriyo, the BJP’s Asansol MP.
Sources say the Union Minister volunteered his name for Bhawanipore, Mamata Banerjee’s constituency and the second seat she is likely to contest in the assembly election that will stretch over eight rounds and 33 days.
The decision on both candidates has been left to PM Modi, Amit Shah and BJP president JP Nadda, sources say.
The Central Election Committee meeting went on till late evening at the BJP headquarters in Delhi. Sources say Suvendu Adhikari, who was present, told his new party bosses that he was confident of defeating Mamata Banerjee by at least 50,000 votes in Nandigram – the constituency that he is credited with nurturing over the years as a Trinamool Congress stronghold.
The decision on 15 key constituencies, including Nandigram and Bhavanipore, will be taken by the BJP’s top three leaders, sources said.
A Mamata Banerjee versus Suvendu Adhikari fight has been in the cards ever since the Chief Minister announced in January, at a rally in Nandigram – her first in five years — that she would contest from there.
Nandigram was the epicenter of a farmers’ movement that propelled Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress to power in Bengal 10 years ago. But the man who worked to build the party’s base in Nandigram was Suvendu Adhikari, who represented the constituency.
Mamata Banerjee’s campaign to protect farmers’ land from a proposed economic zone project in Nandiram powered her 2011 election campaign. In 2007, 14 were killed in clashes in Nandigram between protesting farmers and the police. Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress crafted the “Ma, Maati, Manush” campaign around that incident and won by a landslide.
“I will contest from Nandigram. Nandigram is my lucky place,” Mamata Banerjee said, also urging voters of Bhawanipore, her current constituency, to understand. But then she indicated she could contest from both constituencies and said, “Nandigram is my big sister, Bhawanipore is my younger sister…I will fight from both if possible. In case I am unable to contest from Bhawanipore, someone else would contest.”
The same day, Suvendu Adhikari publicly took up the challenge and declared in Kolkata, “If I do not defeat her with half lakh votes in Nandigram, I will quit politics.”
PM Modi reportedly advised Bengal leaders in the meeting against getting provoked or speaking out of turn and urged them to maintain decorum.
The Prime Minister, say sources, also asked the leaders, including Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh, Suvendu Adhikari and Rajib Banerjee about the mood in Bengal. Another meeting on Bengal may be held on March 9.
BJP chief Nadda has been authorized to decide on candidates for Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala.
Bengal, Keral, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry will start voting on March 27 for state elections. The results will be announced on May 2.