Amit Shah knows that a mere increase in vote share cannot bring the BJP to power. It needs a leader who can strengthen the party at the grassroots level. And Roy fits the bill.
On January 8 last year, just weeks before West Bengal went to the polls, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met Mukul Roy in Delhi for dinner. There had been talk that Roy, MP and second-in-command in the Trinamool Congress, was gravitating towards the BJP because he felt he was being sidelined.
Mamata, however, could not afford to lose her man Friday. It was Roy who had engineered a split in the Congress in 1997, helped her launch the Trinamool, and implemented strategies that helped her come to power and become a force to reckon with in national politics. Mamata’s plan was to placate Roy by making an offer he couldn’t refuse: treating him to a Chinese meal.
Roy loved Chinese food. And, as expected, the dinner in Delhi was a success—he stayed on in the Trinamool and Mamata won a second term.
But, that did not stop him from continuing to hobnob with the BJP top brass. A few months ago, he had breakfast with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and lunch with BJP president Amit Shah, fuelling speculation that he was on his way out of the Trinamool. On September 25, he finally announced his decision to quit the party and resign from the Rajya Sabha. “I was the one who was the first to sign when the Trinamool Congress was formed on December 17, 1997. With a heavy heart today, I have decided to separate myself from the party,” said Roy, his face showing no signs of emotion.
Soon after his announcement, the Trinamool suspended Roy for “anti-party activities”. General secretary Partha Chatterjee said the party’s disciplinary committee had recommended the action, as Roy had been colluding with the BJP. “Why would the party suffer for a man who tried to destroy it?” he asked.
The rift between Roy and Mamata had been widening since January 2015, when the CBI summoned him for questioning in the Saradha chit fund scam case. Later, Kunal Ghosh, the prime accused in the case and then Trinamool MP, wrote to the CBI from jail, naming Roy as the scam’s kingpin. “Roy had been in touch with Saradha chairman Sudipta Sen, before and after he absconded, and assured Sen that nothing would happen to him,” wrote Ghosh. He also termed Roy as the “most powerful man” in the Trinamool, who manipulated things “on behalf of Mamata Banerjee and the party”.
Fearing arrest, Roy held a series of meetings with BJP leaders in Delhi and flew back to Kolkata, where he went straight to the chief minister’s office. He told Mamata of his dissatisfaction over the CBI summons, saying whatever he did was in the interest of the party and that he was “falsely implicated in the case”. Mamata, apparently, told Roy to face the CBI with courage, and if need be, follow in the footsteps of transport minister Madan Mitra and Srinjoy Bose, MP, who had remained loyal to the party even after they were arrested in the case. “If they arrest you, go to jail,” she reportedly told Roy. “Even I am ready to go to jail.”
Apparently, Roy wasn’t. On January 30, he went to the CBI office at Salt Lake in Kolkata. The interrogation lasted almost eight hours. As THE WEEK had reported then, Roy was all cooperation; he even asked CBI to call him in case he needed to clarify things further. But, after that, he was never summoned.
An angry Mamata asked partymen to distance themselves from Roy when she came to know of his statements implicating senior party leaders, including Mamata and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, MP. But, as assembly elections neared, Mamata wanted to have Roy back as her lieutenant. She was upset at predictions that the CPI(M)-Congress coalition would come to power. Hence, the dinner in Delhi.
Now, however, Roy seems to have aligned himself with Modi and Shah. In recent years, the BJP has substantially increased its vote share in West Bengal. If results of the recent civic body polls are any indication, the BJP has ousted both the Congress and the Left as the main opposition in the state.
But Shah knows that a mere increase in vote share cannot bring the saffron party to power. What the BJP needs is a leader who can strengthen the party at the grassroots level. And Roy fits the bill.
During his recent tour of the state, Shah lambasted party leaders for not setting up booth committees across the state. “And you dream of winning elections without such committees?” he asked. “I need all booths. We will have to win Bengal in 2021.” He also said it would be the party’s national-level leaders, and not state leaders, who would decide on whether to induct any Trinamool leader into the BJP.
Asked whether Roy would join the BJP, state party president Dilip Ghosh said, “He is in touch with Central leaders. They will decide on it. Let’s see what happens.”
Roy has reportedly told the BJP that he has the support of 50 Trinamool legislators. None of the leaders, however, has pledged allegiance to him. According to sources in the BJP, a section of the RSS has warned against inducting Roy as he was an accused in the case related to the sting operation carried out by Narada News last year.
People close to him said Roy was playing the waiting game. He has reportedly reached out to the RSS leadership, and is set to form a party which would work closely with the BJP in West Bengal. If need arises, he would merge his party with the BJP. He could even be straightaway inducted into the BJP if Shah or Prime Minister Narendra Modi gives the nod. Either way, he could well become a game-changer.
For now, Roy is keeping his cards close to his chest. “Wait for sometime,” he said. “Don’t pester me to tell everything now. This is a crucial period in Bengal politics.”