As the Assembly poll battle in West Bengal heats up, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee is all set to file her nomination papers from the Nandigram seat on March 10.
The chief minister is up against BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari, who until recently was with the TMC and served as a minister in the state cabinet. Adhikari will file his nomination papers two days after Banerjee.
Nandigram, located in East Mindapore district, was the site of the much-talked-about anti-displacement movement that played a pivotal role behind the fall of the 34-year-old Left Front regime.
To send out a strong message to the BJP, Banerjee had earlier announced that she will not be playing it safe and will contest only from Nandigram, leaving her own seat, Bhawanipur in south Kolkata, to state power minister Sobhandeb Chatterjee.
Meanwhile, according to the BJP, Adhikari had insisted on fighting from Nandigram. "Adhikari himself had told the party's national leadership that he wanted to contest from Nandigram but left the decision on the national leadership," said Rajib Banerjee a former TMC minister who joined the BJP a month after Adhikari.
After the release of the party manifesto on Tuesday, the Trinamool Congress supremo would leave for Nandigram in the evening and file her nomination papers the next day, party sources said.
She would then attend a workers' meet and return to Kolkata on March 11.
Adhikari, whose name was announced as the BJP candidate from the seat on Saturday, will file the nomination on March 12.
"After filing nomination papers, he will address a rally there," BJP leader Kanishka Panda said.
For 50-year-old Adhikari, the contest in Nandigram will be a fight for his political survival as he had vowed to defeat Banerjee by over 50,000 votes in the seat or quit politics.
Adhikari won the Nandigram seat in the 2016 assembly election, while another TMC candidate emerged victorious from the constituency in 2011.
The former minister had quit the TMC and resigned from the Assembly last year to join the BJP after having differences with the state's ruling party.
On the other hand, Banerjee will contest the Nandigram seat for the first time after relinquishing the Bhowanipore constituency in Kolkata, from where she had won twice. The TMC supremo has rented a house in Nandigram and will campaign from there.
Meanwhile, the TMC has been plagued by a series of defections, lately. On Monday, four sitting MLAs switched over to the saffron camp.
Four-time Trinamool MLAs Sonali Guha (Satgachhia) and Rabindranath Bhattacharya (Singur), five-time MLA Jatu Lahiri, former India football captain and one time MLA Dipendu Biswas (Basirhat Dakshin) joined the BJP in the presence of Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh, and party leaders Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy on Monday afternoon.
Apart from them, ex-TMC leader Sarala Murmu also joined the saffron camp.
Murmu was named as the TMC candidate from Habibpur seat in Malda district of north Bengal, last week. However, sensing that she might switch camp, the TMC on Monday morning hurriedly withdrew her candidature, citing her ill health as the reason for change.
This development comes just a day after Bengali actor Mithun Chakraborty joined the BJP in the presence of party leaders Kailash Vijayvargiya and Dinesh Trivedi.
Chakraborty was a Rajya Sabha MP of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) from 2014 to 2016, till he resigned citing ill health.
Over the past one year, Chakraborty’s association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation of the BJP, increased and he had two meetings with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
Prior to that, Chakraborty had shared close ties with chief minister Mamata Banerjee, whose government invited him to inauguration of the Kolkata International Film Festival and conferred the Banga Bibhushan award on him in 2013, before sending him to the Rajya Sabha.
However, Chakraborty distanced himself after the chit fund scam that dragged his name into the controversy.
The actor’s move to join the BJP, is likely to boost the morale of the party ahead of the Assembly polls, as Chakraborty's popularity in Bengal is nearly unmatched.
Elections in Bengal, poised to be a stiff contest between the TMC and the BJP, will be held in eight phases between March 27 and April 29. Polling in Nandigram is scheduled in the second phase, on April 1. Votes will be counted on May 2.
(With PTI inputs)