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Fourth round of Bengal polls: Spotlight on Singur, Nandigram

Monday May 02, 2011 07:50:45 PM, Pradipta Tapadar, IANS

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Nandigram/Singur: Synonymous with intense peasant protests against the acquisition of farmland, Singur and Nandigram go to polls Tuesday in the fourth phase of West Bengal assembly polls, with the opposition Trinamool Congress seemingly having an edge over the ruling Communists.

The Left Front, which for years reaped the benefits of massive land reforms and land distribution among the landless, faces one of its toughest electoral challenges in the polls. Much of that is due to what happened in Hooghly district's Singur and Nandigram in East Midnapore district.

Things changed soon after the Left Front victory of 2006, when the state began acquiring farmland in Singur for Chief Minister Buddahdeb Bhattacharjee's pet industrialisation project - a factory for Tata Motors' small car Nano.

A section of farmers protested against the "forceful" acquisition of land, something which was encashed by Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee. She demanded the return of 400 acres - of the 997.11 acres acquired - to farmers who were unwilling to sell their land. The agitation later forced the Tatas to shift the plant to Gujarat.

The Left Front was also forced to beat a retreat in Nandigarm in 2007 when locals vehemently opposed a proposed chemical hub for which large chunks of land were being acquired.

The resentment ballooned into a violent agitation, literally converting Nandigram into a war zone.

The state government scrapped the project but dispatched police forces to restore law and order, and 14 people died in police firing March 14, 2007.

Riding on the anti-land acquisition protests, Trinamool successfully wooed large sections of the rural masses - so long aligned with the Left Front - and made substantial gains in the 2008 panchayat (rural autonomous bodies) elections. It has swept all the polls since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

The Nandigram constituency, with a total electorate of 195,187, had been a Left stronghold since the early eighties, except in 1996 when the Congress candidate emerged victorious. Trinamool's Firoza Bibi won the seat by a huge margin in the 2009 by-election, caused by the resignation of a Communist Party of India (CPI) lawmaker caught on camera allegedly taking bribes.

This time, the main fight is between Firoza Bibi and CPI's Paramananda Bharati. Firoza Bibi is the mother of one of those killed in the police firing. A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate and an independent are also in fray.

"We will win the (Nandigram) polls with a record margin," said Trinamool MP and East Midnapore strongman Subhendu Adhikari, who registered a landslide victory in 2009 from Tamluk, in East Midnapore.

"If people are allowed to vote freely and fairly, then we will win," said Ashok Guria, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) district committee member.

The CPI-M has accused the Trinamool of terrorising voters and preventing the CPI candidate from campaigning, something the Trinamool has denied.

The abandoned factory in Singur, with fencing around the acquired land, stands like a haunted house.

Many of the farmers who opposed land acquisition, now feel that a car industry could have changed the face and destiny of the area, while a few still live on with a hope that Trinamool will return their land if voted to power.

The total electorate in Singur is 205,596.

"We will win in Singur because the people have learnt from their experience regarding the opportunity lost," said CPI-M leader Santasree Chatterjee.

The Left Front had won the seat till 1996 but Trinamool Congress nominee Rabindranath Bhattacharjee snatched it in 2001 and 2006. Bhattacharjee will take on CPI-M's Asit Das Tuesday.

"After we come to power, we will return the 400 acres of land to the farmers and construct a factory on the remaining 600 acres," said Becharam Manna, the local face of the anti-land acquisition campaign.

Trinamool has rewarded Manna with a ticket from neighbouring Haripal.

The six-phased polls for the 294-member assembly, which started April 18, will end May 10. The counting of votes will take place May 13.





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