Suvendu combats former mentor Mamata for political survival in Nandigram
Nandigram, March 30: Suvendu Adhikari, BJP candidate for Nandigram, is fighting not only to defend his hold over the key constituency but also for his political survival in the battle against former mentor Mamata Banerjee.
The agrarian constituency in Purba Medinipur district which was witness to a fight-back by peasants led by the TMC against forced land acquisition for a chemical hub in 2007, has now turned into a battleground of Titans, with Banerjee suddenly deciding to switch from her Bhowanipur seat to the constituency held by her former lieutenant Adhikari who has switched loyalty to the BJP.
The TMC movement supporting local farmers succeeded in thwarting the Left Front''s plans to set up a special economc zone for large chemical factories and at the same time shaking the foundations of Left front''s grip over Bengal''s rural areas founded in the 1960s with a successful movement to ensure the rights of tenant farmers.
More than a mere political fight, the battle for Nandigram has turned into a bruising battle for survival where Banerjee''s victory could herald the overshadowing of the powerful Adhikari family which has nursed the area for nearly a decade , while Adhikari''s victory could pose a question mark on the chief minister''s political future and possibly propel him into leading the BJP in Bengal, were it to win the battle of the hustings.
While Banerjee has been camping in Nandigram for the last four days and campaigned even during the Holi festival, BJP has fielded its big guns'' including home minister Amit Shah, UP Chief minister Yogi Adityanath and superstar Mithun Chakraborty to defend Adhikari''s turf and take on Didi''. Adhikari said "I have faced many tough challenges in life. I will succeed I am never afraid of anyone or of speaking the truth".
Claiming that he had fought the battle for Nandigram'' "all alone facing attacks and threats to my life" the BJP leader alleged "those who are now claiming the legacy of the historic Nandigram movement did nothing except derive political benefits from it."
"I am fighting for Nandigram, for the people of Bengal," the 50-year-old Adhikari told PTI.
To tailor himself to his party''s beliefs and for a future role in its hierarchy, Adhikari has worked to change his image from an inclusive leader of the land acquisition movement to being a mascot of the Hindutva brigade, claiming that if TMC wins it could turn Nandigram into a "mini Pakistan".
"Mamata Banerjee decided to fight against Suvendu to finish his political career as he had emerged as a challenger of her nephew (Abhijit Banerjee). She wants to ruin his political career. But we have full faith in the people of Nandigram. Suvendu is a fighter," said his father Sisir Adhikari, a TMC MP who too has switched over to BJP recently, adding "this is a battle not only for Suvendu''s political survival, but of the entire family."
Adhikari''s younger brother Dibyendu is also a disgruntled TMC MP from Tamluk in the district.
Trained in RSS shakhas during his formative years, Adhikari was baptised in students politics in the late 1980s as a member of Chatra Parishad, the Congress student wing. His first brush with electoral politics came in 1995 when he was elected as a councilor of Contai municipality, which his father headed from 1967 to 2009.
However, his first major assignment was as election agent to+ Nitish Sengupta, the Congress candidate from Kanthi Lok Sabha seat in 1996. In 1999 Adhikari along with his father switched over to Trinamool Congress barely a year after it was formed.
Therefater, he unsuccessfully contested elections twice - in the 2001 assembly polls and the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. He tasted success in 2006 when he won the Contai assembly seat.
The Nandigram anti-farmland acquisition movement in 2007 changed Bengal''s political landscape and catapulted him to the front row of the TMC.
Adhikari soon became a member of the TMC''s core group and was appointed as president of the Trinamool youth congress. In 2009 and 2014, he won the Lok Sabha polls from Tamluk. After Banerjee stormed to power in the state in 2011, many saw Adhikari, who has a mass following in pockets of South Bengal, as her eventual heir apparent.
The seeds of mistrust between the two leaders were sown on TMC''s first annual Martyr''s Day rally after coming to power on July 21 in 2011, when Banerjee announced the entry of her nephew, Abhishek into politics. Abhishek, then just 24, was named the president of All India Trinamool Yuva an organisation parallel to the TMC Youth Congress The decision had Adhikari fuming as the party constitution had no place for two youth wings.
"It was done just to keep me in check. Despite working hard, I was always an employee in TMC and never respected as a fellow warrior. Where was the nephew when Nandigram was burning? I was there fighting alone," he said.
In 2014, he was removed as the TMC Youth Congress president and a few months later TMC Yuva was merged with TMC Youth Congress.
Sensing that Adhikari might change sides as he was in talks with the Congress, Banerjee nominated him from Nandigram assembly seat in 2016 seat and inducted him to the state cabinet. She even gave him three portfolios.
Adhikari was also made the TMC observer in Malda and Murshidabad and assigned the task of breaking the Congress in its two strongholds. He was successful in poaching elected representatives of the grand old party.
But Abhishek''s meteoric rise in the party and in its decision-making fora continued to plague Adhikari, who nursed afeeling that the party did not give him his due. After its 2019 Lok Sabha poll debacle, TMC abolished the observer''s post, which many feel was done to clip his wings.
There were rumours in political circles that Adhikari might be named the state president of TMC at the 2020 Martyr''s day virtual rally. However this did not materialise. "Now the aunt, nephew and the advisor (Prashant Kishor) run the party (TMC). But after May 2, we will ensure that TMC is wiped out from the political map of Bengal," the BJP leader said.