Mamata-Mukul Fallout: What Happened & What It Means for the TMC
Here’s how Trinamool’s once second-in-command had a falling out with Mamata Banerjee.
Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP Mukul Roy’s decision to quit the party on 25 September, albeit in a staggered manner, was a result of his confrontation with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after he inaugurated suspended colleague Kunal Ghosh’s Durga puja in Kolkata.
Once a TMC second-in-command, Roy submitted his resignation as a Rajya Sabha MP to Vice President and RS Chairman Venkaiah Naidu on Wednesday, 11 October.
Roy’s announcement was crucial as the party had earlier censured him for hobnobbing with BJP leaders. The state BJP chief, Dilip Ghosh, had also said that Roy was in touch with leaders of the BJP in Delhi, but stopped short of stating if he would join the party.
From Founding Secretary to Being Frowned-Upon
Roy was one of the founding secretaries of the Trinamool Congress in 1998. According to reports, his rift with Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool high command started soon after he was questioned by the CBI in the Sarada chit-fund scam which embroiled many top TMC leaders. One of them, the then transport minister Madan Mitra, jailed for over 20 months.
On 30 January 2015, Roy was questioned by the CBI in Delhi for over five hours after which he made a statement saying, “I want the actual truth to come out.” This was seen as a departure from the party line as the West Bengal government had then approached the Supreme Court to seek a court-monitored CBI probe into the Sarada scam.
The state government alleged that the Central government was using its agencies to target TMC leaders. After that, Roy has not been called for questioning again.
The political circles of Kolkata have since been abuzz with rumours of Roy hatching a deal with the CBI and the BJP that would absolve him from his involvement in Sarada. The rift widened as reports of Roy meeting Arun Jaitley in Parliament surfaced.
What followed was Roy being replaced as the party’s leader in Rajya Sabha and then removed from the post of the party’s general secretary. While he refrained from making any direct statement against the party or the party chief, the tension was palpable as he was very rarely seen in party meetings and started to conduct his operations from his office in Kolkata’s Nizam Palace. He has since then met many senior BJP leaders in Delhi including Rajnath Singh.
The distance continued over the last two years, as Roy was first removed as the TMC’s Tripura in-charge in July 2017 after five of the party’s MLAs in the state defied Banerjee’s decision to back Meira Kumar in the Presidential elections. He was then removed from the post of vice president as well, as the party decided to do away with the post altogether in September.
The Rise of Abhishek Banerjee and Contention for Spot No 2
Observers of Bengal politics also point to an internal powerplay unravelling within the Trinamool Congress around this time. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s bid to help her nephew Abhishek Banerjee rise in the ranks before the West Bengal elections in 2016 led to a conflict between Abhishek and Roy, with both now vying for the no 2 spot in the party.
Abhishek is a Lok Sabha MP from the Diamond Harbour constituency in Bengal, and went from being nowhere to everything in the party in just about five years. Roy’s beef with Mamata exacerbated as his son, Subhrangshu, an MLA, was sidelined in order for Abhishek to rise.
There was another internal tiff between Roy and arguably the second most popular mass leader in the Trinamool – Suvendu Adhikari. While Adhikari himself had a cold phase with Banerjee over Abhishek being made in-charge of the Trinamool’s youth wing, the tension passed as her tiff with Roy surfaced.
Roy was now in contention with Adhikari for position no 3, and given Adhikari’s mass appeal, leaders in the party sided with him, as Roy, once again, was sidelined.
This was before the state elections in 2016, and there were rumours that Roy would split from the party and take a large number of top leaders with him. However, after Banerjee’s resounding victory in the state polls, Roy’s clout within the party decreased dramatically as leaders maintained public distance from him.
Mukul's Possible Shift to the BJP. Big Blow for Mamata?
While this political fall-out is made for headlines, how big a blow will it be to Banerjee if the BJP poaches Roy? Not much, say many. In the Trinamool, there are two kinds of leaders – the kind who win elections based on their own mass appeal and the ones who evoke Banerjee’s name to win elections. Roy is not known to be a mass leader, though his political engineering, many would say, is second to none in the party.
As a founding general secretary of the party in 1998, Roy was instrumental in building the party’s district-level organisation and also its election machinery. But with Banarejee’s popularity as a leader winning elections for the party, will Roy’s district-level expertise be missed? The answer is no.
It would, however, be a big public win for the BJP as they can boast of poaching away a man who was once no 2 in the party. Given his close involvement with the TMC, the BJP is probably also looking to get some dirt on the Mamata Banerjee government especially in the on-going Narada and Sarada cases. Banerjee, in her last working committee meeting with the party (which Roy missed), had given out a clear warning: “If anyone wants to leave, the door is open.”
Is Roy pre-empting the party’s decisions and being one step ahead by quitting? Well, from the present political scenario in Bengal, that’s what it looks like.
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