West Bengal

Prize catch?

Print edition : December 08, 2017

Mukul Roy, after joining the BJP in New Delhi on November 3. Photo: KAMAL SINGH/PTI

MUKUL ROY, the former stalwart of the Trinamool Congress, finally put to rest all speculation and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi on November 3. He took the long-expected plunge after keeping political observers guessing for months and threw down the gauntlet against his former party.

“The people of Bengal are looking for an alternative and the BJP will soon be in power in Bengal as well,” he said after the induction ceremony in which Union Minister for Law and Information & Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta were present.

For the West Bengal unit of the BJP, this was the first big name from a rival party to have come into its fold. Once considered the right-hand man of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Mukul Roy began to fall out of favour with the Trinamool supremo soon after he deposed to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2015 during the investigation into the multi-crore Saradha scam, in which several top Trinamool leaders were put behind bars. His cooperation with the investigating agencies, coupled with his perceived and growing closeness to the BJP, hastened his downfall in the party hierarchy. Besides, with Mamata Banerjee promoting her nephew Abhishek Banerjee up the party ranks, Mukul Roy lost his long-held position as the virtual second-in-command. Divested of all important posts in the Trinamool, except his membership of the Rajya Sabha, Mukul Roy finally quit in October this year the party he co-founded in 1997.

In many ways, this was the end of an era for the Trinamool. Mukul Roy was undoubtedly the tallest leader in the party after Mamata Banerjee, and there is no denying that with his tremendous organisational abilities he had played a key role in the party’s rise to power. While a section of the BJP is not happy with his entry, mainly because of the allegations of corruption that cling to him, the majority feel that his experience in electoral politics will benefit the party in the long run. The BJP has undoubtedly been making gains in West Bengal in the last three years, but that has been mainly because of the weakening of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front rather than its own organisational strength. “At present, we have no leader in West Bengal who is an expert in election management. Mukul Roy’s induction is expected to fill that void,” a BJP leader told Frontline.

If the BJP needed any reassurance that it had not made a mistake, it came with Mukul Roy’s first public rally as a BJP leader on November 10 in Kolkata. What he said about certain practices of the ruling party and Abhishek Banerjee precipitated a flurry of denials and counter-allegations, not just from a clearly rattled Trinamool but also from the State administration. One of his allegations was that the “Biswa Bangla” brand was not a government-owned company as believed but a private company owned by Abhishek Banerjee. Biswa Bangla has become over the years a ubiquitous brand used by different departments of the State government for the promotion of various cultural and sports activities and sale of various goods.

The BJP also feels that Mukul Roy’s entry may encourage more leaders to join it, not just from the Trinamool but also from other parties in the opposition. However, political observers are of the opinion that much depends on how the BJP utilises him politically and also how comfortable he ultimately feels in his new surroundings. “The BJP’s expansion in the State depends on how much space the State leadership will be willing to give Mukul Roy. If he can fit in smoothly, it will give the other disgruntled people within the Trinamool an impetus to join the BJP,” said the noted political scientist and social commentator Biswanath Chakraborty.

But the flurry of new entrants that the BJP expects with Mukul Roy coming on board is unlikely to happen immediately. Even Mukul Roy’s loyal supporters within the Trinamool are not willing to take the step that their former mentor took. A Trinamool source known to have been close to Mukul Roy said: “Like me, there are many in the party who are now following a wait-and-watch policy. Let us see how it fares with Mukul Roy in the BJP, then we will take the plunge.”

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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