will Bengal's Muslim votes go?
West Bengal's Muslims, once a loyal vote bank of the ruling
Marxists, appear noncommittal in the ongoing assembly polls even
as the Left Front and rival Trinamool Congress try to woo the
community that makes up 28 percent of the state's population.
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
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
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
"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
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
Trinamool has rewarded Manna with a ticket from neighbouring
The six-phased polls for the 294-member assembly, which started
April 18, will end May 10. The counting of votes will take place