Mukul Roy and Himanta Biswa Sarma
Snapshot
  • How the possible entry of Mukul Roy into the BJP is similar to that of Himanta Biswa Sarma’s.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) top brass has green-signalled the entry of Mukul Roy, once Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s closest lieutenant, into the party. According to media reports, Roy could be joining the BJP soon after Diwali.

While Roy’s prospective entry into the BJP has fuelled mixed reactions within the party, parallels are also being drawn with Assam strongman Himanta Biswa Sarma’s entry into the BJP from the Congress in end-August, 2015. And there, indeed, are quite a few similarities in the entries of these two senior politicians into the BJP.

Sarma was the number two in the Congress in Assam and the closest lieutenant of former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi. He is a master strategist and was credited with crafting many a poll victory for the Congress in Assam. Sarma was also responsible for helping the Congress form governments in many of the northeastern states through strategic alliances with regional parties. Sarma also draws his strength from his personal contacts with grassroot-level workers, most of who switched allegiance to the BJP from the Congress.

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Like Sarma, Roy was also the prime strategist in the Trinamool Congress and his poll management skills were responsible for Trinamool victories in the Lok Sabha, state assembly and local body polls. He was also Banerjee’s man for liaising with other parties at the national level and in other states. The Trinamool’s gains in the 2012 Manipur Assembly polls, where it emerged as the principal opposition party, and in Tripura in June last year when all 10 Congress MLAs in the state assembly switched over to Banerjee’s party are attributable to Roy.

Roy was also the man responsible for building and maintaining Trinamool’s ties with other parties and for Banerjee’s projection at the national level. That apart, he is reputed to share personal rapport with thousands of grassroot-level workers and has knowledge of the intricacies of all the 77,000 election booths across Bengal. He also used to manage the Trinamool’s coffers and was the primary fund-raiser for the party, just as Sarma was for the Congress in Assam.

Sarma’s fallout with Gogoi happened over the veteran Congress leader projecting his son Gaurav Gogoi as his successor. Sarma, an ambitious man, found the prospect of working under a political greenhorn like Gaurav Gogoi unacceptable and ultimately quit the party. Roy was also very upset with Banerjee projecting her nephew Abhishek Banerjee as her political heir and the number two in the party. Roy, a seasoned and senior politician, could not digest the prospect of being removed from the number two position in the Trinamool and of playing second fiddle to a political greenhorn like Abhishek Banerjee. That was beginning of his rift with Mamata Banerjee.

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Both Sarma and Roy have been linked to the Rs 300 billion Saradha scam and both have been questioned by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Sarma’s entry into the BJP was opposed by a section of the BJP leaders in Assam on the grounds that his association with the scam could harm the party’s electoral prospects. Similarly, many in the Bengal BJP have also been opposing the entry of scam-tainted Roy into the party. In both cases, the BJP top brass ruled against the objections.

Like Sarma in the Congress, Mukul also commands the loyalty of not only thousands of Trinamool workers, but also five Lok Sabha MPs and around 25 MLAs. This was evident from the cross-voting in the presidential and vice-presidential polls by suspected Trinamool MLAs said to be loyal to Roy a few months ago. But Roy’s loyalists are not coming out in the open right now and this has rattled the Trinamool leadership, which fears sabotage from within in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

A section within the BJP in Assam, and most of the Congress leaders in that state, had held that Sarma’s presence in the BJP would become a liability for the party and that he would not be able to deliver at all. They had then said that Sarma drew his strength from Tarun Gogoi and without the latter, he would not be able to survive politically. The BJP’s stellar performance in the 2016 assembly polls in that state proved them completely wrong and catapulted Sarma, who was largely responsible for that victory, to the number two position within the BJP as well as the government in Assam. Sarma was subsequently made the convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) by BJP president Amit Shah in order to put his organisational skills to use to strengthen the BJP in the region.

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Roy is also facing similar opposition and disdain, with senior Trinamool leaders saying his exit from the party would have no effect on the Trinamool. “Mukul Roy will prove to be a severe liability for the BJP. No one will follow in his footsteps and join the BJP. He reached the position he was in due to the blessings of Mamata Banerjee and without her, he (Mukul) is a political nobody,” said Bengal Education Minister Partha Chatterjee.

But the Trinamool leadership is nervous. “We don’t know who all are in touch with Mukul Roy secretly, but we suspect many MLAs and even some MPs are. We don’t know what they will do. Mukul Roy also knew many secrets of the party and we don’t know what all he has revealed to the CBI or to the BJP leadership. But his exit from the Trinamool is definitely a loss for the party,” confessed a senior leader, who is also a minister of state.

Though Roy may not be given a formal position within the Bengal BJP right away, his organisational skills will be put to use (as was the case with Sarma too) to strengthen the party in the state. “Mukul’s electoral management skills and his personal rapport with grassroot-level workers, who he has remained in close touch with will be of great benefit to the BJP,” admitted a senior BJP leader.

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Incidentally, a political development in Tripura a couple of months ago could hold out portents. Roy was responsible for winning over the 10 Congress MLAs in that state into the Trinamool last year. On 7 August this year, six of them joined the BJP in the presence of Sarma!

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