With reports coming in of several Trinamool and BJP supporters killed and injured in violence, polling is under way for the second phase of assembly polls in West Bengal. All eyes are on Nandigram, where large number of voters turned out in queues to vote. Nandigram is witnessing a clash of personalities – between chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her ex-loyalist Suvendu Adhikari.
Mamata Banerjee stayed in Nandigram the entire night on Wednesday to oversee her party agents preparing for the polls. All roads leading to Nandigram were sealed by security forces, to stop miscreants from entering the area. Twenty two companies of central armed police forces were posted to ensure peaceful polling in Nandigram. There was tension among Hindu and Muslim voters in several pockets.
It appears as if the votes in Nandigram are being polarized. On Wednesday, Mamata Banerjee revealed that she belonged to Shandilya gotra, one of the eight top Brahmin gotras. This was apparently a message she wanted to convey to Hindu voters, who were leaning towards BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari. BJP leaders replied with slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have changed the paradigm of Mamata’s politics in Bengal.
Soon after Mamata revealed her gotra, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi made caustic remarks. Owaisi alleged, most of the political parties were now playing, what he called, the ‘Hindu card’ in Bengal polls. Owaisi tweeted: “What should happen to people like me who aren’t Shandilya or Janeudhari ? (referring to Rahul Gandhi), are’nt bhakts of any gods, don’t recite Chalisa or any Path? Every party feels that it has to show its Hindu credentials to win. Unprincipled, insulting and unlikely to succeed.”
What had Mamata Banerjee actually said at her Nandigram rally? She said, “When I went to the temple, the priest asked my gotra. I remember, at Tripureshwari temple, I had said, my gotra is ‘Maa, Maati aar Manush’, but when the priest asked my gotra today, I said, personally I belong to Shandilya gotra, but I still believe my gotra is ‘Maa, Maati aar Manush’.
The BJP pounced upon Mamata for revealing her gotra. Union Minister Giriraj Singh (himself a Shandilya) questioned: “Are Rohingyas and infiltrators Shandilya too? Those who insulted Hindus and banned Durga Puja processions are now revealing their gotra, because they fear defeat. Shandilya gotra is dedicated to the nation and Sanatan dharma, not to votes.”
When Mamata visited 25 Hindu temples in Nandigram, BJP leaders alleged, she was a fake Hindu, because she did not allow Ramnavami procession to be taken out. Mamata then replied, she was a devout Hindu and never leave her home daily without reciting Chandi Path.
Now, 70 per cent Hindu and 30 per cent Muslim voters in Nandigram are going to give their verdict today. While Mamata is relying on en bloc Muslim vote, there are Hindu voters who may support her, but Mamata is not certain. On Wednesday, BJP President J P Nadda said, Mamata has realized that she is going to lose when the results will be out on counting day (May 2). “She knows after May 2, she will have to sit at home, that is why she is revealing her gotra and reciting Chandi Path. She is indirectly admitting that BJP will win in Bengal”, he said.
Nadda said, this is why Mamata has sent an SOS to other opposition leaders. On Wednesday, Mamata sent a letter to 14 top opposition leaders including Sonia Gandhi, Farooq Abdullah, Navin Patnaik, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, M K Stalin, Akhilesh Yadav, Sharad Pawar, Arvind Kejriwal and others, appealing to them to unite and join hands to stop, what she called, the BJP from “establishing one-party authoritarian rule in India.”
Nadda says, Mamata has pressed the panic button by sending SOS to other opposition leaders, because she is fearing defeat. As Nandigram emerged as the epicentre of the battle between Trinamool and BJP, Mamata’s rival Suvendu Adhikari started chanting Jai Shri Ram slogans at his meetings, and Mamata had to counter this by revealing her gotra, in order to project herself as a more devout Hindu than Adhikari.
BJP leaders are happy that they have at last forced Mamata to reveal her gotra to show herself up as a devout Brahmin. BJP considers this its ideological victory. Till now, in most of the Bengal elections, we used to hear about parties playing the Muslim card. This is the first time that mainstream parties are openly playing the Hindu card. This has brought about a fundamental change in Bengal politics.
BJP has no doubt managed to create a wave in its favour in Bengal elections, by bringing in its top star campaigners like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, J P Nadda and Yogi Adityanath, but the only drawback seems to be the lack of a Bengali speaking orator from the Centre. Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek are making Bengali language and culture, an issue of pride for all Bengalis. BJP has no effective weapon to counter this linguistic challenge.
The die has been cast. If Mamata manages to win the Bengal elections, her stature in national politics is bound to rise. She will emerge as one of the top opposition leaders to challenge Modi. But if she loses Nandigram, and Bengal, Prime Minister Modi will emerge as a leader who has changed the nation’s political map. To defeat Modi and his party will surely become unthinkable, if not impossible, for the opposition. But I know, Mamata is a fighter, she is not going to accept defeat easily. Let us wait till May 2.
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