Suvendu Adhikari, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s one-time right-hand man who crossed over to the BJP in December, will take on the Trinamool Congress in a do-or-die contest in the state elections that begin later this month, his party announced on Saturday.
Releasing the first list of candidates for the Bengal polls with 57 contenders, the BJP pitted its most important acquisition against the two-time Chief Minister as part of its all-out campaign to wrest one of the few states where it has historically had little traction until recently.
The announcement came a day after Ms Banerjee said she will contest from Mr Adhikari’s constituency and vacate her existing seat of Bhowanipore in Kolkata in what was seen as a bold statement and acceptance of the challenge flung at her by her former aide.
“I will contest from Nandigram as I stick to my words. From Bhowanipore constituency, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay will be contesting in the upcoming Assembly elections,” said the Bengal Chief Minister, announcing candidates for the election starting March 27.
The BJP’s announcement incontrovertibly made Nandigram the most important contest of this election has been set up at Nandigram, with the Chief Minister taking the fight straight to the BJP and, symbolically, all those who ditched her for the BJP.
Nandigram is the stronghold of Suvendu Adhikari, who had challenged his former mentor to face him in the constituency. Mr Adhikari was virtually the architect of the ouster of the Left from Nandigram in 2007 after a bloody battle over land rights of farmers in the area where the CPM government wanted to set up a chemical hub. Trinamool’s sweep in Nandigram in 2007 is one of the key factors that catapulted Mamata Banerjee to power in 2011.
This week, Suvendu Adhikari had told the BJP leadership that he was confident of defeating Mamata Banerjee by “at least 50,000 votes” in Nandigram. But a final decision on fielding him against the top Trinamool face was left to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to sources.
Responding to her announcement on Friday, Mr Adhikari flipped the “outsider” tag used by Mamata Banerjee against the BJP, and paint himself as a “son” of Midnapore – the region that Nandigram falls in.