With all eyes set on the high-voltage battle between TMC boss Mamata Banerjee and her protege-turned-BJP hopeful Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram, CPI(M) candidate Minakshi Mukherjee is facing a herculean task of regaining her party's lost ground, where the epitaph of the mighty Left regime was written nearly 14 years ago.
Mukherjee, who is fighting the assembly elections on planks of job creation and industrialisation, is pulling all stops to put up a formidable fight against identity politics at play in the constituency — often referred to as the cradle of the anti-land acquisition movement in Bengal.
"The TMC and the BJP are under the illusion that polarising candidates in Nandigram would work in their favour, but the fact is that people here want jobs. Both the BJP and the TMC failed to create jobs for the youths. Polarisation of any kind is not the answer to that failure," she told PTI in an interview.
Asked what she thought of her opponents in the communally cleaved seat — set to go to polls on April 1 — Mukherjee admitted that the challenge ahead of her was a tough one as she is up against two titans.
"This fight that we have put up against polarisation will send a message across Bengal. Youths in Bengal need employment more than anything else, the state needs investment," she insisted.
Mukherjee further said that recovering the lost ground for the CPI(M) was necessary to restore the party's image and glory in the agrarian backwaters -- where both the TMC the saffron party have grown at its expense.
Sitting at a two-storey party office near Nandigram Bazar, which was rebuilt and reopened in 2019 as agitators had set fire to it during the 2007 anti-land acquisition movement, Mukherjee feels both the TMC and the BJP have misguided the locals for their vested political interests.
"Now you can see skeletons emerging out of cupboards. Nandigram movement was a conspiracy hatched to misguide locals... People have come to realise that. They have come out in my support in large numbers everywhere.
"If we win, we would work towards bringing back investments to the state, this time with the masses firmly standing behind us. They were never against industry; a false campaign misguided them," she said.
Initially, the Indian Secular Front (ISF) - an alliance partner of the CPI(M) in the Sanyukta Morcha - had decided to put a candidate from the seat, given the fact that 30 per cent of its voters belong to a minority community, but the Left party went ahead and fielded its nominee from its erstwhile stronghold.
Talking about the 'dummy candidate' tag given to her by the BJP, she said the saffron camp and the TMC, who have "looted the poor" in the state, should be the last ones to point fingers at her.
"I am here to fight and win. We have never compromised on our ideals either for the TMC or the BJP. Those who had looted public money during their tenure in the TMC have now become assets of the BJP. People are not fools here," the firebrand orator and DYFI state president said.
She also sought to know "why there has been no progress" in the CBI-led chit fund scam investigation over the last seven years.
"Both the TMC and the BJP are two sides of the same coin - all they hanker for is money and muscle power. We, on the otehr hand, have people's power with us," she said.
A Masters in Political Science, Mukherjee was baptized in politics as a CPI(M) student wing activist.
A resident of a discrete village in Paschim Bardhaman district, she was inducted into the DYFI -- CPI (M)'s youth wing - in 2008.
Riding on her organizational skills and steely grit, Mukherjee's rise through the party ranks has been meteoric, and by the end of 2018, she was appointed the state president of the DYFI.
Nandigram in Purba Medinipur, 150 km from Kolkata, was a stronghold of the communists for over six decades until 2007, when the farmers' agitation turned the tide against the Left.
Since 2008, Nandigram has been a bastion of the TMC, with party candidate Firoja Bibi winning the seat twice, once in a bypoll and then again in 2011.
In 2016, Adhikari bagged the seat with nearly 68 per cent votes polled in his favour. The CPI(M) had then managed to garner 54,000 votes.
The BJP, which made deep inroads in the area following the 2019 parliamentary polls, is apprehensive that the party will be in a spot if the CPI(M) gets to retain its 2016 vote share.
"The CPI(M) has fielded its candidate here to ensure that Muslim votes don't get divided and the TMC gets an advantage," BJP leader and Suvendu's election agent Meghnath Paul said.
Sheikh Sufiyan, Banerjee election agent, however, asserted that the TMC is "not bothered" about the CPI (M) or the BJP candidate, as it is confident of victory in Nandigram by a record margin.