Mamata Banerjee was confined for two hours at a booth on Thursday afternoon as tensions thickened outside and cries of “Jai Shri Ram” rent the air, reflecting the high-voltage face-off between the chief minister and her former protégé Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram.
After walking out of the Boyal booth amid heavy police reinforcements, the Trinamul chief alleged widespread rigging, accused Union home minister Amit Shah of engineering malpractice, questioned the Election Commission’s impartiality and blamed the trouble on alleged outsiders who could not speak Bengali.
“Listen, I’m not worried about Nandigram. I’m worried about democracy,” the chief minister said.
Mamata had got stuck at the booth — flanked by two neighbourhoods divided bitterly between two communities and their contrasting political loyalties — as rival crowds gathered outside shouting slogans against each other.
A huge contingent of police in riot gear eventually arrived to rescue her after she made a series of calls — to governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, the poll panel, police and administrative officials. Mamata stepped out guns blazing, fingers forming a ‘V’.
“I’m going to win Nandigram with the blessings of Ma-Mati-Manush (mother-soil-people)…. For Nandigram and the other seats that voted today, and the 30 seats that did so earlier, for all the seats all over Bengal, I’m showing you V for victory,” she told reporters. “Even in Nandigram, I’m telling you, Trinamul will win over 90 per cent of the votes.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed two rallies elsewhere in Bengal on Thursday, said Mamata’s “actions” in Nandigram showed that she had accepted defeat.
Mamata questioned home minister Shah’s role. “The central forces — I’m not going to blame the CISF or the CRPF or the BSF, they are all our friends — I shall only request the Union home minister…. It’s not that they (central forces) are doing this; it’s the Union home minister — he is instructing the CRPF, the BSF and other jawans of the central forces,” an agitated Mamata said.
“We are proud of them (the forces). But they are being instructed to only help the BJP and the BJP booths.”
She went on: “In this area too, you have seen all the outsiders (who allegedly created the problem), who are not from Bengal. It’s from outside, the goons they have brought in. They cannot even speak Bengali. That’s the unfortunate part.”
Mamata had stayed put at her rented Reyapara accommodation till about 1.20pm. She arrived at Boyal around 1.40pm amid accusations of rigging in a booth from where the BJP had allegedly driven out the Trinamul polling agent.
Although Mamata accused the BJP of intimidating Trinamul agents, her party sources didn’t rule out the Adhikari camp having “bought them off”.
As soon as Mamata arrived, tensions threatened to boil over in the Boyal booth, located in a constituency where Suvendu and his new party had been accused of doing their utmost to polarise the electorate of 2.57 lakh, which includes 68,000 Muslims.
Even after the chief minister left, a large police team stayed put in the area to avert any flare-up, a possibility that had loomed.
While the BJP mocked Mamata for the booth visit and attributed it to her alleged realisation of impending defeat, Trinamul sources said there was “method in the apparent madness”.
“The BJP was banking heavily on electoral malpractice during the lunchtime lull, between 1pm and 4pm, perhaps till the end of polling in the areas dominated by the majority community,” a Trinamul insider said.
“She (Mamata) made sure her Boyal intervention was intimidating enough for the BJP. She also hogged the limelight at a time Modi was campaigning in South 24-Parganas.”
The source said that had Mamata not visited Boyal, the (roughly) 85 per cent turnout in Nandigram till 6pm would have been much higher on account of systematic rigging.
Trinamul repeatedly reached out to journalists to dispel rumours that Mamata had sensed defeat in Nandigram and would be contesting from another seat as well. Like their leader, they insisted she was certain of victory.
Mamata alleged rigging at the Boyal booth.
“I had been warning (the poll panel) about Boyal for three days. For at least four days, they have unleashed unspeakable atrocities on the people, like breaking the arm of a young man who’s with us…. Our workers are battling death or getting murdered in other parts of the state,” she said.
“Our polling agents were beaten up in their homes (on Wednesday night).... I have been telling the police repeatedly, twice, thrice…. Whenever the police came, they (Trinamul polling agents) came and sat (inside the booths). After the police left, the same thing again (Trinamul agents were driven out).”
Mamata alleged that the 80 per cent polling the Boyal booth had witnessed till late afternoon consisted entirely of “rigged” votes, while Suvendu said all of it was genuine.
“The Election Commission, I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry, I apologise to the Election Commission… for their silence. For their total silence,” Mamata said.
“So many letters we have given, but (the commission has been) absolutely one-sided. They are supporting the BJP candidates, and under their instructions the BJP is getting (away with) so many provocations. They are beating up people, murdering them, looting votes.”
The chief minister added: “I think it will create another bad history in our democracy. Democracy, which is a festival of the people. If you don’t allow the people to vote, what do you think, Election Commission? Why will people say the Election Commission is impartial?
“My humble regards to the Election Commission and all its members, please take care, please take care. What you have done in Nandigram and other parts, don’t behave like this the next time too. Whatever you try, the BJP will not win the election.”
Mamata attacked Suvendu without naming him.
“The man contesting here for the BJP, his supreme indecency… from last night’s tandob (rampage), goondagiri (hooliganism) in various places…. We have already sent 63 formal complaints to the Election Commission of India and to others also,” she said.
“All of you saw how, from the morning, they sat with guns, not letting anybody vote. The people are wishing me everywhere. What does that mean? Irrespective of who they entrust with the responsibility (of handling the elections), the people voted for me.”
Suvendu, Trinamul turncoat and the BJP’s catch of the season, dismissed her allegations.
“Out of the 350-plus booths in Nandigram, she has been sitting in one. What do candidates do? Candidates visit multiple booths or sit inside party offices and handle the management. But she sat in just one booth,” he said, having visited the Boyal booth after Mamata had left.
“With 43 voters in the queue, why did she have to do that for two hours, terrorising the voters? Why the natokbaji (drama)? If a polling agent did leave, there are observers, the EC…. Even I level allegations. There is a system for that. I didn’t know that her situation has become so pathetic that she doesn’t even have people left to send emails (to the commission) for her.”
He added: “I’m happy. The CRPF is responding very well; the Election Commission’s work has been fine…. She (Mamata) has insulted the people of Nandigram.”