The 67-year-old Mukul Roy is arguably one of the most important political figures in West Bengal after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, at least for the past decade and a half. Beginning his political career from the Youth Congress, Roy co-founded the Trinamool Congress with Mamata Banerjee in 1998, became her lieutenant, worked towards a stunning TMC win in 2011 against the Left, and retained power in the next term as well.
Such was his influence that after Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress pressured the Congress-led UPA government to drop Dinesh Trivedi and appoint Mukul Roy as Union Railways Minister in 2012.
TMC leaders told The Indian Express that in those years, if Banerjee was the emotional fountainhead of the party, and its undisputed leader, it was Roy who controlled the cadres, knew party members in every block of the state, and kept the organisation running. However, in 2015, the two fell out after Roy was named in the Narada and Saradha scams, and in a move that would have deep repercussions in Bengal politics, he joined the BJP in November 2017.
What was Mukul Roy’s importance in the BJP?
When he joined the BJP, Roy brought with him all his administrative and political nous of Bengal. It was around that time that the party began looking seriously at building its base and expanding in West Bengal. BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya used Roy’s organisational skills as well as a widespread and deep-rooted network in the state to raise the BJP as a force. “Roy’s contribution since the early days cannot be ignored in BJP as it emerged as the main opposition party in a state like West Bengal where Left politics had its deep roots,” said a BJP leader who was involved with the party function in Kolkata. Come 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the results were there for all to see – the BJP won a staggering 18 seats of the 40 in West Bengal.
Vijayvargiya, according to party sources, had tried to persuade the BJP top leadership to reward him with positions. While Roy had expressed his desire to be part of the Union Government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not entertain the idea, mainly due to the charges of corruption against him.
Finally, the BJP leadership gave him a position in the organisation. When J P Nadda constituted his team in September 2020, Roy was elevated as the national vice-president of the BJP. Roy’s elevation had triggered public outburst from Rahul Sinha, who had then been dropped as a secretary in the organisation. “I have given so many years to the BJP. I have given my 40 years to the party. The award I received is that a TMC leader is coming, so I have to leave. My party has rewarded me, and I have nothing to say,” he was quoted as saying then.
What were the early signs of trouble for him in the BJP?
Mukul Roy has been disillusioned with the BJP leadership for a while – it began even before the assembly election. TMC sources told The Indian Express that Roy was not in favour of fighting the assembly elections for the BJP, but was asked to fight the Krishnanagar seat, which he won.
During the heated campaign with the TMC, Roy seemed to take a backseat, with BJP state president Dilip Ghosh and newly inducted Suvendu Adhikari taking all the political space, the latter fighting a pitched battle with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram. Immediately after the elections, Banerjee also showed signs of softening towards Roy, drawing a difference between him and Adhikari. A senior TMC leader said, “It is not that Roy leaving did not hurt Mamata di. But he was never vicious against her like Suvendu was. There was always scope for a realignment.”
Immediately after the election results, there were further signs of a fallout between the BJP and Roy, after he did not attend at least two meetings, leading to intense speculation. On May 8, however, besieged by these questions, Roy had tweeted his continued allegiance to the BJP, saying, “My fight would continue as a soldier of BJP to restore democracy in our state. I would request everyone to put the concoctions and conjectures to rest. I am resolute in my political path.” A little over a month later that is no longer true.
What are the reasons he is rejoining the TMC?
The final nail in the coffin for an already settled Roy was the appointment of Adhikari as the leader of opposition, despite Roy’s crucial role in bringing the BJP up as a force to reckon with, some in the BJP said. Both Roy and Adhikari had won their assembly seats, but only one was treated with “respect,” TMC leaders said. “In TMC, there may be differences, but we always knew the importance of Mukul Roy. In BJP, it is Suvendu Adhikari who is getting the meetings with Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi.”
A senior BJP leader claimed that Roy was under pressure from the TMC leaders to “put emotional pressure” on him “through his son Subrangnshu Roy as he is going through some personal issues”. Both Roy and his wife Krishna have been dealing with post-Covid health issues. “Banerjee has extended all help to the family,” said the leader. While Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee went to the hospital to meet with the family, senior BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to Roy over the phone. Subrangshu recently praised Banerjee for her handling of Covid pandemic and the post-Cyclone Yaas situation.
How does his future look in TMC now?
For the BJP, this is now a crucial time, in terms of its political future in the state. Already, the state unit of the BJP has been complaining of a violent reprisal from TMC cadres across the state after the latter’s emphatic win. Someone as important as Roy returning to the TMC is now a further boost to the ruling party.
Immediately after the elections, there were signs that senior leaders who defected to the BJP want to return, with some giving quiet indications, and others openly pleading with the TMC. Roy himself has influence over some leaders and played a key role in them jumping ship to the BJP. It remains to be seen if there is a shift back to the TMC now, and how many people Roy can influence to return. Already those close to Roy are claiming many will follow him.
Within the TMC too, Roy’s return makes for an interesting dynamic. Since his departure in 2017, the rise of Abhishek Banerjee has been meteoric, and he is now firmly the number two in the party. This was solidified during the election campaign, and has further been cemented with Banerjee’s appointment as All India General Secretary of the TMC. What role Roy will now play and where he will stand in the new dynamic of the TMC, and whether Mamata will repose her faith in him again are some questions that will find answers in time.