Mukul Roy’s exit from the Trinamool Congress ends a 20-year relationship with a party he had formed along with Mamata Banerjee on December 17, 1997, and where he remained a central figure until recently. Until he fell out with Mamata, Roy was number two in the party with a wide range of roles. In Delhi, he was the party’s face, having served in various parliamentary committees and as railways minister and MoS for shipping. In Bengal, where the vernacular media often described him as Mamata’s Chanakya, he was the party’s organisation man as well its chief poll strategist.
The question is how far Roy, 63, will be able to damage the party he had helped form, either by joining the BJP or from an independent party. His test will come in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 and the assembly polls in 2021.
Son of a railway employee and a resident of Kanchrapara, North 24-Parganas, Roy went to Harneet High School where, family members say, he always ranked in the top five. He did an honours course in chemistry from Rishi Bankim Chandra College, Naihati.
“It was during his college days that he became involved in politics,” Anupama Sengupta, Roy’s elder sister, told The Indian Express. “He was the first in the family to enter politics. Initially, we were not very pleased. He was good at studies and a good sportsman; he represented the district in both cricket and badminton,” she added. “He dedicated his life to the party. Our family, including his son, got little time from him, which he gave to the party. We are all deeply pained now, and I know he will be in pain too.”
“My father did a lot for the party. He rose from a political worker during his college days,” said Roy’s son Subhrangshu, himself a Trinamool MLA, having been elected from Bijpur of North 24-Parganas in 2011 and 2016. “It is my father’s decision to sever the relationship. But I am with Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress.”
Mamata’s No. 2
Before he became a full-time politician, Roy worked as a contractor and businessman in electrical goods. During the 1990s, he became close to Mamata and worked under her leadership when she was Youth Congress president in Bengal. When she decided to quit the Congress, he went with her. And when the Trinamool Congress was formed, he was the first signatory. In time, he established himself as the undisputed number two.
Roy was standing beside Mamata during the Nandigram and Singur agitations. In April 2006, he was elected to Rajya Sabha and went on to be appointed a member of the Committee on Urban Development as well as of the Consultative Committee for the Ministry of Home Affairs. In April 2008, he was appointed his party’s all-India general secretary; in May 2009, he became MoS (shipping).
Roy is acknowledged as the party’s main strategist for the 2011 assembly polls that brought the Trinamool Congress to power in Bengal, ending 34 years of Left Front rule. When Mamata resigned as railways minister after becoming chief minister, he was handed charge of railways.
Later the same year, he was removed in a cabinet reshuffle. He would be railways minister again on March 20, 2012, when Mamata relieved Dinesh Trivedi of the portfolio. This time, Roy served until September 21, 2012.
This was the period when Roy came to be known as the face of the party in Delhi. He was its main decision-maker in Rajya Sabha.
“Apart from managing organisation, he was at one point in charge of party’s expansion out of Bengal,” said a party veteran. “In every election, it was Roy who not only planned but executed the strategy. In 2014, particularly, Roy managed the poll from Trinamool Bhawan and the party was able to withstand the Modi wave; the BJP got only two seats out of 42 in Bengal.”
Out of favour
A distance started to grow between Roy and Mamata after the CBI questioned him for hours in the Saradha chit fund scam. Later, his name came up in the Narada sting case too.
In 2015 came the first speculation that he, along with some other party leaders, would leave the Trinamool Congress. Members of the group applied to the Election Commission for recognition as a political party. That year, Mamata removed Roy as general secretary. In 2016, she rehabilitated him as vice president.
The distance, however, was never bridged. Mamata took charge of the organisation herself, delegating responsibility among Subrata Bakshi, Firhad Hakim, Arup Roy and Sovan Chatterjee (the last three considered second-rung leaders), and giving Suvendu Adhikari organisational charge of some districts. Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee too rose to head the Trinamool Youth Congress, the party’s organisational backbone.
In Delhi, meanwhile, Derek O’Brien became the party’s face in Rajya Sabha while Lok Sabha MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay and other leaders too overshadowed Roy in prominence. Roy remained vice president, however, and was given the task of expanding the party in states beyond Bengal, including Punjab and Haryana.
Also in-charge of the party in Tripura, Roy was stripped of that responsibility recently when all Trinamool MLAs joined the BJP, making the latter the main opposition in the Left-ruled state, which goes to polls next year.
Over the last two months, reports started to circulate that Roy was set to quit and negotiating with BJP and RSS leaders, besides teaming up with suspended Trinamool MP Kunal Ghosh and other leaders unhappy in the party.
Amid these reports, Mamata dropped him from the parliamentary consultative committee of the home ministry on September 4, replacing him with Manish Gupta. On September 17, Mamata abolished the post of Trinamool Congress vice-president, held by Roy.
Roy’s followers are confident that he will play a bigger role in Bengal politics after Durga Puja. They claim he has the support of a large number of Trinamool Congress MPs and MLAs. The Trinamool leadership, on the other hand, dismisses his relevance.
“Roy is a spent force and he is nothing without Mamata Banerjee, and nothing without the Trinamool Congress,” said a Lok Sabha MP close to Mamata. “His clout in the party is gone. Our party chief knew about his leaning towards the BJP and, over the last two years, made certain that he has little say. He will move into oblivion without the Trinamool Congress.”
Apart from speculation that Roy will join the BJP, his camp-followers have also made efforts to revive the Nationalist Trinamool Congress, which they had floated in 2015 after Roy had been removed as Trinamool Congress general secretary.
Last week, Roy surrendered the ‘Z’ category security provided to him by the West Bengal government. “I have got to know from the media that I have been removed from various parliamentary committees and also as Trinamool vice-president. So I felt there is no need for security,” Roy said then.
1990s: Youth Congress, with Mamata Banerjee
1997: Trinamool Congress, first signatory to new party
2006: Rajya Sabha
2008: Trinamool all-India general secretary
2009: Union MoS (Shipping)
2011: MoS (Railways), removed the same year
2012: Back as railways minister
2015: Questioning in Narada scam; removal as party general secretary
2016: Rehabilitation as Trinamool Congress vice-president
2017: Removal from parliamentary panels; abolition of his post of