Suvendu Adhikari was the Trinamool MLA from Nandigram before joining the BJP.

Kolkata:

The blockbuster battle in Bengal has been declared. It will be Mamata Banerjee versus her former lieutenant Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram. The BJP on Saturday announced names for 57 seats in the Bengal polls that begin later this month and Suvendu Adhikari is the BJP’s choice to take Mamata Banerjee head-on.

The 50-year-old former minister for transport and environment had quit in December and joined the BJP in the presence of Amit Shah. He was the Trinamool MLA from Nandigram since 2016 and is widely seen as the BJP’s most important acquisition before the polls.

Mocking Ms Banerjee for “running away” from her long-held Bhowanipore seat, Mr Adhikari on Saturday said he is “200 per cent” sure of handsomely defeating the Trinamool chief, who is an “outsider” in the Nandigram seat.

“Why have you deserted your Bhowanipore constituency? Why have you run away? Is it because the BJP had won in the booth at Mitra Institution in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections? You cannot even win in your own locality,” Mr Adhikari said at a rally in Behala area of Kolkata.

Mamata Banerjee on Friday rolled up her sleeves for the battle declaring she would fight only from one seat and that would be Nandigram. She had earlier said she may contest from her old seat Bhowanipore as well but cleared the air yesterday, handing the seat in Kolkata over to her power minister Sovandeb Chattopadhyay.

Just before that, Suvendu Adhikari’s father Sisir Adhikari who is a Trinamool MP and has avoided comment on the rift between his son and Mamata Banerjee said yesterday that her decision to take on his son would boomerang on her.

The Adhikari family, headed by Sisir Adhikari and comprising sons Suvendu, Dibyendu and Soumendu have a stranglehold over the Purba Midnapore district.

Sisir Adhikari is Trinamool MP from Kanthi, his son Dibyendu is Trinamool MP from Tamluk in the district. Soumendu was chairperson of Kanthi municipality till his recent removal and Suvendu was the MLA from Nandigram. The district has a substantial Muslim population.

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.

The BJP’s announcement incontrovertibly made Nandigram the most important contest of this election with the two-time Chief Minister taking the fight straight to the BJP and, symbolically, all those who ditched her for the BJP.

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.

The Left-Congress-ISF combine has not yet decided which party will fight in Nandigram. The ISF had said they could like to field a member of the family of its leader Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui from Nandigram.

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