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Mukul Roy: ‘Garry Sobers’ of Bengal Politics Who Could Steer the TMC's National Innings

Mukul Roy hugs Abhishek Banerjee. (ANI)

Mukul Roy hugs Abhishek Banerjee. (ANI)

Mukul Roy had silenced all journalists with his famous Garry Sobers reference in 2015.

Buried deep between his fingers, a man in his late 60s flicked his cigarette carefully inside an emerald-coloured onyx ashtray kept at one corner of a cane tea table.

He was wearing a coat and a pullover because it was winter in the national capital. While sitting in the lawn of his MP’s quarter at South Avenue he was engrossed in a couple of restless puffs and trying to hide his worries before a few selected journalists who went to meet him.

“Please sit down…have some tea," the man told the journalists.

Then, with a smile he said, “I know why you all came here…See Garry Sobers was an all rounder but later he developed the ability to bowl ‘chinaman’ and ‘googlies’ to get wickets too. This was his talent. Whenever cricket will exist in this world, people will always remember Garry Sobers. Similarly, in politics it is difficult to ignore me.”

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It was Mukul Roy who silenced all journalists with his famous Garry Sobers reference in 2015. Then, Roy and Mamata Banerjee had a fallout after his name cropped up in the Narada and Saradha scam.

Sitting beside him was his close friend and (then) TMC MLA Silbhadra Dutta, who is now in the BJP. He had also agreed with Roy’s statement.

Since then, the tone and tenor of Bengal’s politics have changed.

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, Mukul 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.

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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.

Roy officially joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on November 3, 2017 and had said he was proud to get an opportunity to work under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Start of Career

He started his political career with Youth Congress and during that period became close with Mamata Banerjee, who had also been a Youth Congress leader at the time.

Later, they, along with other Youth Congress leaders broke away from the Congress party and Mamata Banerjee formed the All India Trinamool Congress in January 1998.

On December 17, 1997 Mukul Roy was the first to join when Trinamool Congress was formed, a year before when it was officially founded on January 1, 1998.

In 2006, Roy was made the general secretary of the party and became the ‘number-2’ leader after Mamata. He enjoyed the protection of Mamata Banerjee for more than two decades.

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.

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.

For Mamata, he 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.

Born in 1954 in Kanchrapara in the North 24 Parganas district in West Bengal, Mukul was a bright student and wanted to become a social worker. He did his graduation in BSc from Calcutta University and in 2006, he did his MA in public administration from the Kamaraj University in Madurai.

Mukul Roy was also the non-executive director of the United Bank of India (UBI) from 2002 to 2005.

In the 2001 Assembly Election, he made his electoral debut and fought from Jagatdal constituency in North 24-Parganas. Unfortunately, he lost the seat to Hari Pada Biswas of Forward Bloc.

During the UPA-2 government, he was made the Minister of State (MoS) in the Ministry of Shipping and after that he was made the MoS in the Railway ministry in 2011.

Roy took over the charge of the Railway Ministry after his party colleague, Dinesh Trivedi, (now in the BJP) was forced to resign by Mamata Baanerjee because of the announcement of an increase in passenger fares in the Railway Budget. Soon after taking charge as the Railway Minister Mukul slashed the railway fare hike done by Dinesh Trivedi.

His tenure as a Union Railway Minister came to an end in 2012 after Mamata Banerjee came out of the alliance due to an allowance of 51 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail and in the Aviation sector.

‘Pied Piper’ Under BJP

BJP leader Mukul Roy was undeniably the most valuable asset for the saffron brigade in Bengal who gave sleepless nights to ‘Didi’.

This ‘Pied piper’ of Kanchrapara in North 24-Parganas – who managed to lure more than 60 TMC MLAs and Councillors in just two days after his association with the saffron brigade in 2017 – was praised by many in the BJP central leadership.

Roy successfully contested the 2021 West Bengal Legislative Assembly election from Krishnanagar Uttar constituency defeating his closest rival Koushani Mukherjee from the Trinamool Congress.

Mukul’s differences with some big BJP leaders in Bengal including Rahul Sinha and Dilip Ghosh became an open secret.

Last year, state BJP president, Dilip Ghosh while commenting on internal rifts in the party, had said, “There are no differences. I am no one to give certificates to Mukul Roy. He told me that he is in the BJP and he will remain in the BJP. All I want to say is that I am a front foot player.”

Then, 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 (BJP in-charge of West Bengal) meeting with Roy in Kolkata’s Salt Lake in August.

Then (on August 16, 2020), 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.

He was struggling in the state BJP to make his space due to differences with the old guards and some TMC turncoats.

Today, he met Mamata Banerjee and joined the TMC.

The development came days after TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee had said that they have discussed the ‘ghar wapsi’ of TMC leaders who quit the party and joined BJP before elections and the final call regarding this will be taken by Mamata Banerjee. Abhishek also paid a visit to his wife at the hospital on June 3.

In a media statement, another party MP, Saugata Roy, felt that turncoats should be divided in two groups including ‘soft-liners’ and ‘hard-liners’. “Suvendu Adhikari insulted our party Supremo but Mukul Roy never abused her,” he said.

On September 26, 2020, Mukul Roy became the Vice President of the BJP. With Mukul’s deep penetration in the ruling camp (because he was the founding member of the TMC), BJP wanted to utilise his ‘long association’ with Mamata Banerjee.

But, now since he has returned to his home camp (TMC) – Mukul is certainly going to play an active role in taking the party to the national level. It was Mukul who took the party to other states like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tripura, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur etc.

It seems likely that Abhishek Banerjee and Mukul Roy will work together in re-launch the party at the national level in coming months.

On June 7, TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee – who was recently appointed as the All India General Secretary of the TMC - announced that he will not hold any ministerial post for the next 20 years and is planning to re-launch the party at the national level in coming months.

When asked to elaborate more on his expansion plan of TMC at the national level, he said, “Give me three weeks or a month’s time. I will share more on this in my next press conference.”

Political experts feel that Mukul Roy during his little more than three-years of association with the saffron brigade knows many ‘secrets of the BJP and its leaders’ and it won’t be an easy task for the saffron brigade to directly confront him. This (Mukul’s ghar wapsi) is likely to create a favourable position for Mamata Banerjee to increase her Assembly Seats tally as more MLAs will join TMC in due course.

However, Mamata has clarified that those who abused the party and crossed all limits before joining the BJP ahead of the recently held Assembly Polls will not be taken back in the party.

“Only those who maintained political courtesy will be taken back,” she said.

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first published:June 11, 2021, 20:30 IST