As the curtains came down Tuesday night on campaigning for the second phase of the Bengal election, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee played one final card – telling voters she belonged to the ‘Shandilya gotra’ – one of the eight highest Brahmin ‘gotras’.
At a rally in Nandigram – which will see a high-stakes prestige battle between Ms Banerjee and her aide-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari – the Chief Minister led off by reminiscing about visits to temples, where priests asked her for her ‘gotra’.
“During my second campaign, I visited a temple where the priest enquired about my ‘gotra’. I told him ‘Maa Maati Manush’ (the slogan that powered her to victory in 2011),” Ms Banerjee said.
“That reminded me of my visit to Tripura’s Tripureshwari temple where too the priest had asked my ‘gotra’ and I told him ‘Maa Mati Manush’,” she added, before saying, “Actually I am ‘Shandilya’.”
Nandigram – the constituency that helped Ms Banerjee storm the state’s Left citadel and catapulted her to power a decade ago – is today the stage of her toughest political scrap.
Ms Banerjee and Mr Adhikari, who was instrumental in swinging Nandigram votes for the Trinamool in 2011, have traded bitter, and increasingly personal barbs since he crossed over to the BJP in December last year, triggering a flood of defections that left the Chief Minister furious.
On Monday Mr Adhikari swapped ‘didi’ – the traditional honorific for Ms Banerjee – with ‘begum’ and slammed her for “appeasement of minority communities”.
“Mamata Banerjee used to say Eid Mubarak… she congratulated people on Holi with Holi Mubarak… If you vote for begum, this will become mini-Pakistan,” he declared.
On Monday Ms Banerjee responded warned Nandigram voters that police from BJP-ruled states had been drafted in to “terrorise” them during polling on Wednesday.
She had earlier also labelled her former aide a ‘Mir Jafar’, who was the commander-in-chief of Bengal’s last independent Nawab Siraj-ud Daula, and who betrayed him to the British.
Anything other than a win for Ms Banerjee in Nandigram – preferably one by a large margin – will be a seismic shock in Indian politics, and will almost certainly herald the fall of Bengal to the BJP.
Both sides have declared they are confident of winning the seat; Mr Adhikari has promised to quit politics should he lose, and the Trinamool insists ‘Bengal’s daughter’ (Ms Banerjee) will win.
Mamata Banerjee signed off her personal election campaign in style on Tuesday evening, standing up on the dais as the national anthem played, despite a leg injury suffered earlier this month.
Nandigram and 29 other constituencies will vote in the second of an eight-phase Bengal election that ends April 29. The first phase – also with 30 seats – was held on March 27.
Results will be counted on May 2.
With input from ANI