Nandigram is where her ascent began, and it is where Mamata Banerjee will battle the BJP in her pursuit of a third consecutive term in office. On Monday, days after her once-trusted lieutenant and mobiliser of the Nandigram land struggle, Suvendu Adhikari, joined the BJP, Banerjee announced that she will contest the assembly election, due in three months, from the Nandigram seat. It’s a dare that could electrify her cadres and frame the agenda of an election that is most likely to be a tight and polarising contest.
The 2007 land agitation in Nandigram was the breakthrough that Mamata Banerjee and her party, the Trinamool Congress, was looking for to deliver a final blow to the Left Front in West Bengal, which had exhausted itself after more than three decades in power. Land was the issue around which the Left, particularly the CPM, mobilised rural voters and won seven consecutive elections. The Left Front government’s attempt to acquire land for industry was resisted by peasants in Nandigram and Singur and it provided an issue for the Trinamool to mobilise voters against the Left Front. It is this legacy that Banerjee has sought to invoke in a bid to stem the exodus of leaders from her party and consolidate the Trinamool base in the wake of the BJP’s no-holds-barred mobilisation to win Bengal. The BJP, which won just three seats in the 2016 assembly elections, has emerged as the main opposition to Banerjee in a short span by winning over leaders from the Trinamool, CPM and Congress and through concerted campaigns by its national leadership.
Nandigram 2007 gave the Trinamool its current identity, and its winning slogan, “Ma, Mati, Manush (mother, motherland, people)”. The slogan turned the land struggle into a political idea and helped Banerjee build a storied narrative for the Trinamool. It enabled her to brand the Trinamool, an offshoot of the Congress and once an ally of the BJP, as a regional party that had its ear to the grass roots and drew its energy from the leadership of a mother figure. Nandigram is the origin myth of the Trinamool. By announcing that she will contest from Nandigram, Banerjee has sought to invoke a powerful memory and legacy and pit it against those who have left the Trinamool fold. It’s a smart move on her part to deny the likes of Adhikari a slice of the history they, too, were a part of. However, unlike the Left, the BJP is not burdened by the memory of Nandigram. But it will have to engage with Banerjee’s pitch.