When former Trinamool vice president Mukul Roy resigned from Parliament as well as from his party earlier this week, the news was not unexpected. Last month, a day before the week-long Durga Puja celebrations, Roy had already announced his intention of leaving the party once the Puja festivities had ended. What did come as a surprise to many, especially to those in Bengal’s BJP unit, was the veteran Trinamool leader’s apparent reluctance to attack his former boss and party supremo, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Roy went to the extent of refusing to indict Banerjee of any wrongdoing in the infamous Sarada and Narada scams, which have tainted many of Trimaool’s senior leaders, saying that she was unaware of what was going on. A day after Mukul Roy’s press conference, Bengal state BJP president Dilip Ghosh held his own media meet, slamming Roy for “giving Mamata Banerjee a clean chit’’. While neither Roy himself, nor BJP’s national leaders, have confirmed the possibility of his actually joining the party, he is expected to do so after Diwali.
Political analysts in the state say that Mukul Roy’s press conference is quite in keeping with the way the leader operates. One analyst told me that Roy’s refusal to slam Mamata Banerjee was a decidedly smart move by a man considered to be not only one of the wiliest political leaders of the Trinamool, but of West Bengal. He said that the Chief Minister’s popularity was not only intact, as has been seen in the last assembly elections where she swept 211 of the 295 vidhan sabha seats, but on the rise. At this point, to attack a popular chief minister would look both opportunistic as well as petulant from her former lieutenant and work against his future political prospects in
Political Science Professor at Rabindra Bharati University Biswanath Chakrabarty has been following Mukul Roy’s career for nearly two decades. He says that Roy’s quiet press conference is characteristic of the way he functions – as a silent operator and strategist. Chakrabarty points out that the lack of pomp in Mukul Roy’s departure from the party should not be made a ground to underestimate Roy’s actual power in the state.
“It’s true that Mukul Roy isn’t necessarily a mass leader of the calibre of Mamata Banerjee, who is immensely popular with the masses. But he is an exceptional organisation man. From 1998-2009, it was Mukul Roy who was responsible for building the Trinamool Congress as a party and an organization. The Trinamool students wing,
teachers wing, labour unions – they were all set up by him single handedly. He has literally built the party along with Mamata Banerjee. And that is the biggest danger that Mukul Roy poses to the TMC right now. No one, with the exception of Banerjee, knows more about the way the TMC works than Mukul Roy. And if he could make the party, he can break it as well. I have no doubt that he is capable of taking along with him a considerable number of TMC leaders and cadres,’’ Prof Chakrabarty said.
Roy himself is believed to have told close aides that he can garner, by himself, at least 6 per cent of West Bengal’s vote share. To beat Mamata Banerjee however, he will need an additional 30 per cent, which he believes he can get with the help of the BJP’s backing, especially the national party’s deep coffers.
Professor Chakrabarty further pointed out that Mukul Roy has also been the TMC’s main election organizer and strategist. One of the main reasons why, despite growing differences and distrust, Roy was one of the two leaders (the other being Banerjee’s nephew, youth president and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee) that the Chief Minister took with her to campaign for the 2016 elections across the width and breadth of the state. The professor argues that the TMC’s reaction, including holding daily press conferences to attack their former leader, is a sign of the party’s anxiety.
TMC insiders also say that since Roy’s announcement last month, a stream of local leaders from far flung areas in Bengal – from Asansol to Lalgarh and from Alipur Duar to Bardhaman – have started coming to Kolkata to meet him. In formerly Maoist affected Jhargram, now dominated by the TMC, the Chief Minister last week removed the party’s district president, known to be close to Roy. Many other such cadre changes are on the cards, say those who have been close to Roy.
Over the past few elections, the BJP’s vote share in local elections has also been on the rise. Disenchanted voters and cadres of the Left parties have quietly been shifting support to a party despite the BJP being considered a novice in Bengal’s political landscape and with no ideological similarity to the electorate’s heavy Left and socialist leanings. With a paucity of strong leaders and managers in its state unit, many believe that Mukul Roy joining the party will be, in itself, a coup.
But even if the leader were not to join the BJP, but instead decide to lead the Nationalist Trinamool Congress, a party he is rumored to have founded before the 2016 assembly elections, when his relationship with Banerjee seemed at the time to have soured beyond repair – it is likely that this party will be backed by the BJP in future elections in the state.
Whether it is from within the ranks of the BJP or from outside – a confluence of purpose between Roy’s politics and that of the BJP’s and both their futures in West Bengal is apparent. Certainly, he has become the BJP’s most important political instrument it will use in breaking Banerjee’s growing influence in Bengal.