It was in 2015 and the place was an MP’s quarter at South Avenue in the national capital.
As Delhi was warming up to embrace a nip in the air, a man in his 60s — sitting on a bamboo chair — lit his cigarette, buried deep between his thumb and the index finger.
A few journalists stood around him and he was discussing how Garry Sobers earned his fame during his cricket career while playing for the West Indies.
Then, irrespective of his differences with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, he was looking calm and composed, and, with a subtle smile he said, “You know one thing? As long as cricket will exist in this world, people will always remember Garry Sobers. You know why? Because he gradually developed himself as an all-rounder.”
Meet Mukul Roy, the avowed Garry Sobers of Indian politics.
Once a trusted aide of Mamata Banerjee, he is once again in the news amid reports and rumours of his differences with the state Bharatiya Janata Party leadership in Bengal.
Speaking to News18, Roy said, “Today, once again I am saying that as long as cricket will exist in this world, people will always remember Garry Sobers. Similarly, jab tak politics rahega, humko koi ignore nahi kar sakega (No one will be able to ignore me as long as there's politics). There is a lot of speculation about me. But I would like to clarify to you that I am still with the BJP and I will remain in the BJP. There is no question of joining the TMC. My fight against the TMC will continue till democracy is restored in Bengal.”
When asked why he has not been all that active in Bengal politics for the past few months and arguing that anything can happen in politics (as TMC was also once a BJP ally), he said, “One cannot ignore the current pandemic situation. I am passing 65 (age) and it is not an easy task for a patient (talking about himself) to ignore the pandemic who is taking insulin injections for the last 20 years. I would like to share another interesting fact with you. Did you know former Pakistani captain Wasim Akram used to take insulin three times a day when his career was at its peak?”
On murmurs about his differences with the state party president Dilip Ghosh, he said, “This is not true. The fact is, till the situation becomes normal, I have to be extra careful. Dilip da is our party president. He is an MP and he is a fighter. I am with the BJP and I am not going anywhere.”
When asked whether despite their differences, does he remember Mamata Banerjee, he said, “See, this is human psychology. When you work or have been long associated with someone, remembering that person is normal.”
Clearing the air on the matter, Dilip Ghosh termed himself a "front-foot player".
“I am no one to give a certificate to Mukul Roy. He told me that he is in the BJP and he will remain in the BJP,” Ghosh said. “I was the state BJP president for four years till the Lok Sabha elections (in 2019). Then there were no allegations and we won a good number of seats in Bengal. After that I was again asked to continue as state BJP president. Why was I again made the state BJP president? Those who are behind these rumours must have some vested interest."
He further said, “It’s not that I know everything. It is possible that I may have made some mistakes. But I would like to send a message to those who are spreading such rumours that go and once prove it by fighting with the TMC.”
The reactions from Mukul Roy and Dilip Ghosh came amid crucial back-to-back meetings including one between BJP president JP Nadda and the Bengal unit chief in Delhi and Kailash Vijayvargiya’s (BJP in-charge of West Bengal) meeting with Roy in Kolkata’s Salt Lake on Sunday.
Such was the urgency that Vijayvargiya flew down to Kolkata to meet Roy (the national executive member who was put in charge of the Lok Sabha election in 2019) ahead of the crucial assembly polls in West Bengal in 2021, while Ghosh went to Delhi to meet Nadda.
On September 25, 2017, in a major setback for the TMC, Roy resigned from the party’s working committee.
Then, addressing a press conference at Nizam Palace in Kolkata, he had announced his resignation from the party's primary membership and as a Rajya Sabha member.
Roy's move had come days after Mamata Banerjee in a core committee meeting warned party leaders against hobnobbing with BJP people in Delhi. She had said those who wanted to join other parties were free to go but no anti-party activities would be tolerated.
On August 30, 2017, Roy was removed from the chairman’s post of the standing committee on transport, tourism and culture in the Rajya Sabha for his alleged proximity to BJP leaders in Delhi.
Since Roy was questioned by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with the Saradha Ponzi scheme in 2015, his relationship with Mamata had turned bitter as he had reportedly assured full cooperation to the probe agency.
When the TMC was formed in 1997, Roy was among the first leaders to join the party. He was the non-executive director of the United Bank of India (UBI) from 2002 to 2005.
In April 2006, he became a member of Rajya Sabha from West Bengal and was later appointed a member of the committee on urban development in August 2006. The same year, he became a member of the consultative committee in the ministry of home affairs.
For Mamata, Roy was the most trusted party worker and had actively worked for her in protesting against the land acquisition by Bengal's the-then Left Front government at Singur and Nandigram.
In April 2008, Mamata made him the party's all-India general secretary and the next year he became minister of state in the shipping ministry.
On the other hand, Dilip Ghosh, who once seemed to equate himself with Hindi cinema’s most famous villain, Gabbar Singh, in a cryptic public speech on June 20, 2018, in Jalpaiguri, has emerged as a tough challenger for the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress.
Ghosh, who joined the BJP from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 2014, has swiftly become the party’s linchpin in West Bengal. In 2015, he was made the state unit president and was reappointed to the post this month by the central leadership.
He left home at the age of 20 and started working for the RSS under the mentorship of veteran Sangh leader Keshav Dixit. His father, Bholanath Ghosh, a social worker and his mother, Puspalata Ghosh, allowed him to work for the RSS in 1984.
He was also given the charge of the Sangh in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. After that he became the BJP's Bengal unit president in 2015. The party witnessed a meteoric rise in its fortunes under his leadership in the state. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s vote share went up to 42% from 17% in 2014.
From 2011 to 2018, the state’s tribal-dominated Jangalmahal region comprising the districts of Jhargram, Bankura, Purulia, Paschim Medinipur and Birbhum was a bastion of the ruling TMC. But with the 2018 panchayat elections and the previous parliamentary polls, the BJP expanded its footprints considerably in these areas.
In the 2016 assembly polls, Ghosh won the Kharagpur Sadar constituency in Paschim Medinipur district by defeating Congress’s Gyan Singh Sohanpal. This was significant because Sohanpal had won the seat seven times in a row from 1982 to 2011. In 2019, he won the Medinipur Lok Sabha constituency by a margin of 88,952 votes and a vote share of 48.62%, defeating TMC heavyweight and former Congress leader Manas Bhunia.
Ghosh has been guiding his party’s forays into Bengal, gradually making deeper inroads. However, he has also kept courting controversies during his public speeches.
After his reappointment on January 16, 2020, as state BJP president, for Ghosh, popularly known as ‘Naru da’, the 2021 assembly polls will be crucial to steer the BJP towards the power corridor in Bengal.