Mukul Roy, who returned to the Trinamool in 2021, now says he never left the BJP, creating a stir in political circles.
On April 17, Trinamool Congress leader Mukul Roy, one of the most high-profile political figures in West Bengal in recent times, was reported “missing” by his son Subhranshu. The same evening, Roy was seen in Delhi, claiming that he was still with the BJP and calling for “change” in the upcoming panchayat elections in West Bengal.
Roy, 69, left the BJP in June 2021 to return to his old party, the Trinamool. His sudden decision to change parties once again not only took everyone by surprise, but also brought to the fore the strange and sad case of a maverick politician, who, from the heights of power, is now reduced to a confused, addled figure, shunned by the very parties that at one time were fighting to keep him on their side.
Roy is reportedly suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s disease, but the reactions of the political parties show that they are not averse to using him for whatever political mileage he still has.
Although there are conflicting reports on how Roy landed up in Delhi, Subhranshu, a former Trinamool MLA, said two people had taken his father without informing his family, and for a brief period Roy was “untraceable” (as reported to the police). Soon after he was seen in New Delhi, Anupam Hazra, a BJP leader from Bengal, posted a cryptic message in Bengali on social media: “Pratyabartan” (return). Hazra refused to elaborate.
Meanwhile, Roy, in an interview to a Bengali news channel in Delhi, pointed out that the question of “returning” to the BJP did not arise, as he had never left the party: “I was with the BJP, I still am, and will remain in it,” he said.
Soon after the BJP lost in the 2021 Assembly election in Bengal, Roy returned to the Trinamool, with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee welcoming him back and saying that he would “play the same role” in the party as before. Roy hailed Mamata as the “leader of India” and said, “The situation is such in Bengal that no one will continue in the BJP.”
In Delhi, Roy indicated that his return to the Trinamool two years ago was due to a momentary lapse of reason brought on by personal loss. “The kind of things Trinamool is doing is not good for West Bengal.....I heard various leaders are in jail,” he said. Refuting his son’s claims regarding his “illness” Roy asserted, “All my reports are fine now. I have shown [myself to] a doctor, and I am now absolutely fit.”
- Trinamool Congress leader Mukul Roy, reportedly suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s disease, recently said in Delhi that he is still with the BJP.
- One of the founding members of the Trinamool, Roy was once one of the most formidable politicians in West Bengal.
- In March 2016, Roy suffered a political setback with the revelation of the sting operation carried out by Narada News.
- On November 3, 2017, he joined the BJP. Soon after the BJP lost in the 2021 Assembly election in Bengal, Roy returned to the Trinamool.
Interestingly, Mamata Banerjee, who had welcomed Roy back with the words, “Old is always gold”, said, “Whether a person wants to go to Delhi, Mumbai or Punjab, is entirely up to that person. Mukul Roy is a BJP MLA. I have heard his son had registered a diary with the police that his father was missing....It is possible that he [Roy] was being intimidated.”
For the past two years or so, Roy was hardly seen in public. The few times he made any public statements, his comments indicated that he was in a state of confusion and clearly not in a position to occupy any important party or government post.
Trinamool Rajya Sabha member Santanu Sen said that it made no difference to the Trinamool whether Mukul Roy remained in the party or not. “He has dementia and is forgetting everything. He also has Parkinson’s and a liver disease, along with diabetes and hypertension. His irrelevant words only point out that he is not at all healthy. Does he himself know what he is saying?”
The situation has also put the BJP in a quandary because Roy, despite rejoining the Trinamool in an elaborate ceremony in the presence of the Chief Minister, is technically still a BJP legislator: the BJP had earlier moved court to remove Roy as an MLA. A senior source in the BJP told Frontline that there was really no place for Roy in the party any more. “It is possible that Mukul Roy went to Delhi at the call of someone from the BJP, we do not know. But what we do know is that the top leaders have expressed no desire or intention of meeting him. He left the BJP soon after we lost in the Assembly election, and now we have no need for him,” the source said.
Position of pre-eminence
One of the founding members of the Trinamool, Roy was once one of the most formidable politicians in the State. He began his political career as a Youth Congress leader: it was at this stage that he became Mamata’s close aide. He left the Congress with her to form the Trinamool Congress in January 1998, and was the most important member of Mamata’s core team.
Known for his organisational skills and political acumen, he was Mamata’s most trusted strategist in times of crisis. He was a Rajya Sabha member from 2006 to 2017, general secretary and national vice president of the Trinamool, and also Railway Minister for six months in 2012, wielding enormous influence within the party and in the government.
From 2015 onwards, Roy began to lose his pre-eminence in the party following his deposition before the CBI in the multi-crore Saradha deposit scam, in which several top Trinamool leaders were allegedly involved. Around the same time, Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee began a swift ascent to the top and soon took over the spot that was once Roy’s.
In March 2016, Roy suffered a political setback with the revelation of the sting operation carried out by the Narada News news portal, where top party leaders, including Ministers and MPs, were seen accepting cash on camera. The sting was carried out in 2014, when Roy was still at the top of his game. He was seen directing the sting operative to hand over the money he was being offered to S.M.H. Mirza, the Superintendent of Police (SP) of Bardhaman district. “I am not taking it straight away. I will tell my men, you will give it to them....You talk to Mirza. Everything will be communicated to me through Mirza,” Roy was seen telling the operative. The sting video also showed Mirza audibly counting the money as the bundles were being handed over to him at his official residence. The Narada case was one of the hardest blows to the reputation and credibility of the Trinamool.
In March 2017, the Calcutta High Court ordered the CBI to take over the case, and six months later Roy quit the Trinamool; on November 3, he joined the BJP. The party that had condemned him loudly following the Narada sting now welcomed him with open arms. Roy facilitated a large number of defections from the Trinamool and played a crucial role in the BJP winning 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general election.
Roy’s defection, however, gave rise to allegations that his decision was prompted by the fear of being investigated by the CBI. The allegations gained credence when the CBI arrested Mirza in 2019, two heavyweight Ministers, Firhad Hakim and the late Subrata Mukherjee, and former Minister Sovan Chatterjee, in 2021, but seemed to turn a blind eye to Roy. While Roy maintained that there is no evidence of him taking money in the sting operation, Mirza stated, “The investigation will prove whether he has taken the money or not. Just because he is not seen taking money in the video, that does not make it so.”
The other top Trinamool leader who was seen accepting cash on camera in the operation was Suvendu Adhikari, who is at present with the BJP and the Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly. Adhikari also appears to have remained untouched by the investigating authorities.
In the 2021 Assembly election, Roy won from the Krishnanagar Uttar constituency, but the BJP itself was trounced. And just as he was among the first to leave the Trinamool and join the BJP before the election, he was also among the first to return to the Trinamool. What will happen to Mukul Roy now is anybody’s guess.