On Monday, senior Trinamool Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Mukul Roy announced that he would resign from the party and give up his seat in the Upper House after Durga Pujo festivities end on Saturday. In retaliation, the party suspended him for six years for purported anti-party activities.
Roy is a founding member of the Trinamool Congress and was for long its most important leader after party President Mamata Banerjee. His resignation, though, is not a surprise. Roy’s relationship with Chief Minister Banerjee had been under severe strain for two years now and his exit had been likely for some time now. The Trinamool accuses him of being close to the Bharatiya Janata Party and there is speculation that he may join the saffron party.
With the Communist Party of India (Marxist) sinking into obsolescence, the BJP has now become the major Opposition force in West Bengal. However, the Trinamool still retains a vast lead. Could Roy’s exit bring the BJP within striking distance of power in the near future?
Roy founded the party along with Mamata Banerjee in 1998 and was one of her closest lieutenants during the massive agitations against the government’s decision to acquire farm land for industrial projects in Singur and Nandigram in 2007. This eventually led to the Left’s downfall in the state elections.
An organisation man, Roy drove the party’s election strategy for the 2011 Assembly elections in which the Trinamool ended the Left’s 34-year reign in West Bengal. He also anchored the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, in which the West Bengal successfully resisted the Modi wave that had swept so many other states at the time. Trinamool went on to win 34 of 42 seats in that election.
Roy was also a key leader for the Trinamool in Delhi and liaised with the BJP, Congress and other parties. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2006. Under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Roy served as Minister of State in the Shipping Ministry as well as Union Railways Minister.
Roy’s rift with Mamata Banerjee began in 2015. In January that year, Roy was questioned by the Union government-controlled Central Bureau of Investigation in connection to the Saradha scam. The Saradha company ran several ponzi schemes in West Bengal, defrauding lakhs of people. Once the scheme collapsed in 2013, there were allegations that the Trinamool had played a role in the scam.
The Trinamool believes that during his interrogation, Roy evaded arrest by providing the BJP with information on the party’s activities. Roy is also said to have divulged details about Mamata Banerjee as well as her nephew and heir-apparent Abhishek Banerjee.
After this episode, Roy’s stock in the Trinamool dropped sharply. Later that year, Roy was removed as the Trinamool’s general secretary. During the 2016 Assembly Election, Roy was side-lined. The Trinamool’s massive win in that election further sealed his fate. This July, he was removed as party’s official in charge of Tripura. On September 16, Trinamool abolished the post of vice president – a post that Roy occupied at the time.
As Roy’s reputation within the Trinamool fell, the BJP lurked in the background. The saffron party has been growing steadily in the state. It managed a 10.2% vote share in the West Bengal Assembly elections – a respectable performance for a party that has never been a big favourite in the state. Recent elections have seen the BJP edge past the Left.
Even as the BJP’s rise is impressive, it is still a long way away from capturing power in West Bengal. A visit by BJP President to West Bengal earlier in September saw him slam state leaders for being unable to grow on the ground. Faced with a roadblock, the BJP has stepped up its attacks on Banerjee, accusing her directly of pandering to her Muslim voters.
Like Modi in many other states, the West Bengal chief minister is a political behemoth. The BJP, in stark contrast, has an embarrassing lack of leaders in the state. The party chief in the state Dilip Ghosh himself is a political lightweight.
In this matrix, Roy’s exit is not a major factor. As a thorough organisation man, if Roy chooses to join the BJP, he could help it to grow. But that growth will hit up against the political charisma of Banerjee. Although Roy has a deep understanding of West Bengal politics, a mass leader he is not. In effect, his exit might do little to help the BJP.
While the BJP has successfully convinced many senior leaders from other parties to come over to its side, at least in West Bengal, it seems, this short cut will not work. For now, the BJP needs to concentrate on building up its organisation ground up. Battling the Trinamool might be more of a long-term war.