The day after her alleged attack in Nandigram, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee assured her party workers from her hospital bed that she would soon be getting back to the field. She also appealed to her party workers to remain calm and not do anything that would inconvenience people. “I am hopeful that in two or three days I will be able to get back in the field. A problem with my leg may persist, but I will manage. I will not waste a single meeting of mine, but I may have to travel in a wheelchair. I request your cooperation,” said Mamata.
On the evening of March 10, hours after filing her nomination in Nandigram, Mamata met with an accident while greeting her supporters from her car. The car door was open and she was partially out of the slow-moving vehicle, waving to a massive crowd that had come to see her, when suddenly the door of the car slammed shut, seriously injuring her left foot. Mamata alleged that “four to five” people had slammed the door shut with a premeditated plan to hurt her. Mamata also claimed that not a single police personnel was present at the scene, nor was the Superintendent of Police of the district present there. The incident raised questions regarding Mamata’s security, particularly since she enjoys Z Plus security cover as Chief Minister and has full control of the police as the State’s Home Minister. The Chief Minister’s allegation triggered off angry reactions by Trinamool workers across the State. They blocked roads and got into tussles with workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Eyewitness accounts of the incident, however, tell a different story. Most of those who claim to have been present when the incident took place say that the car door hit a post and slammed shut, hitting the Chief Minister, who was greeting the crowd with her head and her left foot partially out of the car. The allegation that several people had forcefully shut the door of the car on her was rejected by all the local people who spoke to the media.
On March 11, speaking from her hospital bed, however, Mamata did not repeat the allegation she made the previous day. “It is true I was very badly hurt yesterday and there is an injury in my foot, and I suffered from pain in my chest and head. I was greeting people from the bonnet of my car, when a lot of pressure came and my leg got pressed in the car,” she said. She was admitted to the SSKM hospital in Kolkata on the evening of March 10, and a six-member medical board was set up to treat the Chief Minister. Briefing the media on her condition on March 11, the doctors of SSKM said, “Her health condition has shown significant improvement, but the pain in the left ankle is persisting, for which treatment is going on. The results of the ultrasonography of the abdomen, X-ray of her arm and shoulder, CT scan of her thorax are within acceptable limits. The CT scan of her left knee has revealed degenerative changes.”
Mamata’s allegation that she was a victim of a deliberate attack in the very constituency in which she had filed her nomination, caused a major storm in an already volatile political situation in poll-bound West Bengal. Nandigram has become the focal point in the election as it will witness a battle between two of the biggest mass leaders in the State – Mamata and Suvendu Adhikari, who recently left the Trinamool Congress to join the BJP. Mamata’s allegation of being attacked sparked off a fresh war of words between the two parties.
In a letter to the Chief Electoral Officer dated March 10, the Trinamool Congress wrote: “Within 24 hours of the removal of the erstwhile DGP (director general of police), an attempt on Ms Mamata Banerjee’s life was made in Nandigram…. At the time of the assault neither the Superintendent of Police nor the local police was present to give her security cover, even though she is a Z plus protectee…. After the elections are announced the law and order of the State becomes the responsibility of the ECI. The ECI is squarely responsible to protect the Hon’ble CM…. Deliberate transfers at the top echelons of the police administration on the instruction and at the behest of the BJP are having serious destabilising impact on the State administration…. The attack is a deeprooted conspiracy to take the life of our Chairperson. We call for an investigation of the same.” The letter was signed by State Ministers Partha Chatterjee and Chandrima Bhattacharya, and Rajya Sabha MP Derek O Brien.
The Secretariat of the Election Commission of India responded with a strongly worded letter saying: “[I]t is rather unfortunate that the memorandum in question is full of insinuations and averments, which in fact, questions the very basis of creation and functioning of Election Commission…. It is completely incorrect to suggest that the Commission has taken over the law and order machinery in the State in the name of conducting elections and appropriated the whole governance structure, etc. …it looks undignified even to respond to the allegations of all this being done on the behest of a particular political party… DGP was not removed summarily and without any application of mind. It was the outcome of the recommendation given by Special Observers….”
The opposition parties, including the BJP, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front and the Congress dismissed Trinamool’s allegation as baseless and a political “drama” to gain sympathy votes. BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya pointed out that anybody with Z plus security has at least 12 cars with her when she is on the move. “If in spite of a three-layer security, the State’s Chief Minister is attacked and injured, then an investigation has to take place to find out who is responsible…. The Director, Security and the Additional Director, Security, were with the Chief Minister (when the incident took place). Why haven’t their statements come to the public domain yet?... We want an investigation on the incident at any cost and we want to find the truth behind what happened. The people of the State need to know what happened,” said Samik Bhattacharya. The BJP claimed that the Centre has offered to provide protection to the Chief Minister if she so requires.