Nandigram: Amid a political slugfest between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP over chief minister Mamata Banerjee getting injured last week in Nandigram, farm leader Rakesh Tikait, along with noted social activist Medha Patkar and many others addressed a mahapanchayat at the same venue on Saturday.
One overarching message given by the leaders under the umbrella organisation Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), which is spearheading the protest at Delhi’s borders against the Centre’s farm laws, is “Defeat BJP. Don’t vote for the BJP.”
Nandigram is important for two reasons. Firstly, the area witnessed the fight against forcible land acquisition by the Left Front government and helped Mamata Banerjee come to power, ending the Left government’s 34-year rule.
Second, Nandigram has become the epicentre of a fierce battle between the ruling TMC and the BJP. Banerjee has relinquished her old constituency, Bhowanipore, to contest from Nandigram against her former trusted lieutenant Suvendu Adhikari, who switched over to the BJP three months ago.
Patkar is a familiar face in Nandigram as she was a part of the anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram in 2007-2008. The movement is considered one of the landmark events of land struggles in the country, which ultimately led to the scrapping of a British-era land acquisition law.
Leading a sharp attack on the BJP and the party’s candidate in Nandigram, Patkar said, “I fondly remember how villagers used to stay awake all night during the 2007 struggle. At that time, no one ever thought of Hindus and Muslims separately. Hindus and Muslims fought as brothers and sisters for their land. At the time, the slogan was ‘Amar Gram Nandigram’. It’s shameful that today, the BJP and their candidate is dividing the people of Nandigram on religious lines. Don’t listen to him.”
After Banerjee announced that she will be contesting from Nandigram, on January 19, BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari said that she chose Nandigram depending on “62,000 voters…while 2.13 lakh people will vote for Jai Sri Ram”.
While speaking at the BJP’s rally in the Brigade Parade ground, Adhikari attacked the West Bengal chief minister, whose campaign has the slogan ‘Bengal wants its own daughter’. Adhikari said, “No one accepts you as Bengal’s daughter here. You are the phuphu (the word for paternal aunt, used primarily by Muslims) of infiltrators and the khala (the word for maternal aunt used primarily by Muslims) of the Rohingya.”
Speaking to The Wire on the sidelines of the public meeting, Patkar said, “Farmers have sacrificed their lives to save their land. SKM leaders came here because Nandigram is the land of revolution. I hope people of this land will defeat communal forces, forces which are anti-farmer and anti-poor.”
Manjeet Singh Dhaner, another senior farmer leader, asked people not to vote for ‘purchased leaders’. Dhaner said, “Throughout the country, the BJP is growing by buying leaders from the opposition parties. Don’t vote for these turncoats.”
Addressing the Nandigram mahapanchayat, Yudhvir Singh, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) general secretary, said “Whenever elections come, they suddenly (BJP) remember Hindus, Muslims. They are the most divisive force in this country. Don’t fall for their words. They only understand the language of voting, so use your voting right and defeat them. Only then they will understand the power of the janta (people).”
‘Reject BJP,’ says Tikait
Leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) Rakesh Tikait got a huge response as he entered the ground in Nandigram. Many farmers of Nandigram got to know about Tikait through social media, when his emotional speech after the farmers’ tractor rally went viral.
Tikait’s speech, during which he broke down, came as the eviction of farmers at the Ghazipur border looked inevitable on January 28. It became a symbol of resistance against the three farm laws as it was credited for the mobilisation of several hundreds of farmers from western Uttar Pradesh, at a time when farmers were demotivated due to the incidents of violence on Republic Day.
In a scathing attack on the BJP, Tikait said in Nandigram, “The BJP is planning to ruin the lives of farmers by supporting big corporates. They don’t care about you and me. They are going to bring many anti-people laws. They are bringing anti-people laws related to fisheries and milk production too. They are here to sell this country’s asset and hand it over to companies. If this government is run by any party, then we could have discussed and resolved the issue. This government is not run by a party, it is run by companies. So, to teach it a lesson, the BJP must be defeated. You will have to defeat them in Bengal.”
Calling upon the people of Nandigram to defeat the BJP, he said, “Don’t fall for the communal trap. They (BJP) will try to divide you in every possible manner. Be united. Do not let them win.”
The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) general secretary Hannan Mollah, who was also an eight-time CPI(M) MP from Uluberia of Howrah district, was also present for the event.
Incidentally, the rally took place on the eve of the 14th anniversary of the infamous March 14 (2007) police firing in Nandigram that killed 14 protesters.
SKM leaders reached the poll-bound state of West Bengal on Thursday for a three-day visit to campaign against the BJP. After this programme, different groups of farmer leaders will visit various districts of West Bengal until the assembly election end on April 29, the last of the eight phases. The first phase begins on March 27.
The organisation has printed leaflets which have been distributed across the 294 assembly segments of the state with a message: “Reject BJP, defeat BJP in the upcoming assembly election”.