Mukul Roy, one of the architects of West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress (TMC), and for long the second-in-command to Mamata Banerjee in the state and at the Centre, said, now that he was out of the party, his primary aim was to dislodge her government from power. He said that the BJP—which sources say that he is joining soon—would win between 10 to 14 Lok Sabha seats from Bengal in 2019 and that Mamata Banerjee’s party would be restricted to 18 odd constituencies out of the state’s 42 seats. It won 34 Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
Roy also said that one of the reasons why he left his party, and subsequently resigned from the Rajya Sabha last week, was because he was not being treated “like a comrade” by the Bengal Chief Minister. “We are comrades, we are not servants of anybody. She is the leader. She led, but our contribution should not be (overlooked),” he said in a chat with this newspaper at his New Delhi residence on Wednesday. When pointed out that the usage of the word “servant” implied that he was being treated like a servant by Mamata Banerjee, he did not reply in the affirmative. Instead, he reiterated, “Well, I was feeling that we were not comrades.” He also claimed that there was immense dissatisfaction among Trinamool workers on the ground, thousands of whom were ready to join hands with him if he joined the BJP. He said that he was also in touch with several Trinamool MLAs and MPs.
COUNTERING TMC WITH BJP
If sources are to be believed, Mukul Roy is joining the BJP as early as Monday, 23 October, or sometime next week, and is likely to be the party’s main electoral strategist in Bengal. Roy, however, said that nothing was “finalised” yet, but admitted that he was “talking to the BJP” and was interested in joining the national party. He explained “that the change in West Bengal which came after 35 years in 2011” may have been led by Mamata Banerjee, but in that movement he too did “some serious work” and he was not happy at “the manner in which the present government is going”. “Lives of political people are unsafe; they are being harassed like anything, which had not happened in Bengal earlier,” he said.
He added that it was not just he who was being harassed—he claimed that he was under constant surveillance—but also “the people who are opposing the Trinamool government”. “They may be workers of Trinamool, but they were taken into custody and given narcotic cases. If you visit the jails in Bengal, you’ll find thousands of Trinamool Congress people, who were arrested in narcotic cases,” he alleged.
“So, my first target will be to dislodge this government for the manner in which state power is being used. To curb that state power, another state power is required. That’s why I’m definitely interested in the BJP—to combat the present state power in Bengal,” he said.
“Bad governance” was why the Mamata Banerjee government must go, he added. When pointed out that the voters endorsed Mamata Banerjee’s governance just last year, when she swept back to power by winning 211 of West Bengal’s 295 Assembly seats, Roy, who is a former Minister of State for Railways said that the Trinamool won primarily because of the rise of the BJP, which divided the anti-government vote: “If BJP hadn’t got a sizeable number of votes in each Assembly seat, then there would have been at least a hundred seats where the Trinamool would not have been able to win.”
While talking of the BJP’s presence in Bengal, Roy said, “They have got 18% votes (around 17% in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections) and sometimes in some locations it was up to 30, 31 or 32%. And for the first time in Bengal, there is a sharp difference between the voters on the basis of religion. So, BJP has got the presence and I think if they can give a good fight then the result can be different.”
He added that the BJP was in a position to occupy the main opposition space in Bengal as Congress and CPM were losing their political space in the state. “All of them (Congress and CPM workers) are now going to the BJP to fight against the Trinamool.”
When asked, what kind of exodus he was expecting from the Trinamool if he joined the BJP, he said, “When Trinamool Congress was constituted, at that time Mamata Banerjee was the single MP. No MLA or MP was there, but at the grassroots, they (the leaders) had support. If I’m going to join (BJP), then people from that entire grassroots will join the BJP. And I believe that the grassroots people are the engineers to make someone an MP or MLA.”
He said there was “hundred per cent unhappiness among Trinamool workers” against the party leadership because of “certain people (who) have grabbed power. Coming from the Left, they have grabbed power. Those originally from the Trinamool have been left out. Also, we are fighting against dynasty rule. She said that we were fighting against dynasty rule, but now dynasty rule has been introduced in Bengal.”
It is well-known that there is a lot of unhappiness in the Trinamool Congress over the prominence being given to Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, the 29-year-old Lok Sabha member from Diamond Harbour, Abhishek Banerjee. However, when asked about this, Roy said, “He is a very young boy who is junior to my son. So, I am not going to speak anything against Abhishek.”
GET THE CADRE
When asked how many MLAs would desert the Trinamool to join hands with him, Roy, who is known to be a formidable organisation-man, said, “I’m not going for MLAs or MPs. I know that the original pillars of democracy are the workers. If in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP gets 12 to 14 seats, then you will see that almost 120 MLAs have left Trinamool Congress, wanting to join BJP.” “I feel that BJP will get 10 to 12 Lok Sabha seats minimum and it may go up to 14.” Roy asserted that if BJP gets 13-14 seats, “Congress will get five-six seats, Left three-four seats and automatically out of 42, Trinamool would be reduced to 18-19 seats”.
He claimed that he knew at least one person from each of the state’s 77,000-plus electoral booths and added that “at least one person is ready to come with me; so 77,000 people will come to me”. He also said, “From my party (Trinamool) so many MPs are in touch with me, but their names are not to be disclosed right now.” Roy however admitted that he is “trying to change the minds of Adhir and Suvendu” so that they join hands with him.
Congress MP from Baharampur, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury is currently WB Pradesh Congress Committee president, and former Minister of State in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet. While Suvendu Adhikari is minister in the Mamata Banerjee government and is considered to be a heavyweight.
While talking about BJP, Roy said, “I have already said I’m not going to believe that BJP is a communal force. Mamata is the first lady who said BJP is not untouchable. In the year 1998, we had formed the political party to fight against the Congress and CPM, not against BJP. Had BJP not given support then Trinamool would have been ousted. In 1998, we fought as partners with BJP, in 1999, we fought as partners of the NDA. Mamata Banerjee became the Railway Minister in the NDA government. Again in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006… Then subsequently in 2008 or 2009 we went with the Congress. Again in 2012 we left the Congress. So my question is, if you (now) feel that Congress is the main (opposition) force in the country so, why will our party leave? Party will go and merge with Congress.” Trinamool is a breakaway group of the Congress.
Meanwhile, an influential Muslim cleric, Toha Siddiqui of Furfura Sharif, who is perceived to be close to the Mamata Banerjee administration, has started making pro Mukul Roy noises. Roy showed this correspondent a Bengali newspaper cutting, featuring that news. “Coincidentally”, there have also been media reports that at least two Bengal BJP leaders met Siddiqui recently. The Muslim community in Bengal constitute around 30% of the population and is an important vote-bank for the Trinamool Congress.
When asked if Bengal’s Muslims would ever vote for the BJP, Roy asserted, “Bengal minorities think that for their development in the state, BJP is the best party. So, Toha Siddiqui and so many people think that BJP will be their first choice.” “A large section of the minorities (will vote for the BJP),” he concluded.