The BJP senior leadership and its truant national executive member Mukul Roy appear to have buried the hatchet for now after days of speculation, gossip, and muttering about the latter’s possible exit from the party.
Roy, who was once the second-in-command of the Trinamool Congress, told newspersons in Kolkata that he was very much part of the BJP and that he had no intention of quitting the party. “I am getting enough respect (in the party),” he said.
He even demanded a proper inquiry into the ‘rumours’ about his joining the Trinamool Congress, the party he left in 2017 after a fallout out with its chief Mamata Banerjee when his name came up in the Saradha scam as well as in the Narada sting operation in 2015.
After being summoned by the CBI for questioning, Roy allegedly started hobnobbing with the BJP, meeting senior leaders like the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and party general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, among others. For such meetings, he was suspended from the TMC for six years, in September 2017. About two months later, he formally joined the BJP.
From the very beginning, a section of senior state BJP leaders were against giving an ‘outsider like him with a tainted background’ such importance in the party. Off and on, reports emerged in the media about Roy being sidelined or ignored in the party. Before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Roy, however, was given the freedom to poach potential winners from rival parties.
After the party’s meteoric rise in the state, winning 18 seats, it was widely speculated that the former Union Railway Minister would be rewarded with a ministerial berth at the Centre. But it did not happen. Since then, Roy has been unsuccessfully pushing for a greater role either in the party or the ministry.
His aspiration had been constantly ignored, giving rise to speculations about his exit from the BJP.
Tongues started wagging again after Roy stayed away from a crucial meeting of the Bengal BJP in New Delhi on Thursday despite being in the national capital.
The following day he flew back to Kolkata on the pretext of a medical appointment for his eye ailments. Strangely, posters and placards of the BJP and its leaders Narendra Modi and Amit Shah donning the walls of Roy’s 181 South Avenue residence in New Delhi simultaneously disappeared, giving further credence to the political grapevine.
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Many state BJP leaders present in Delhi for the meeting convened to discuss the party’s strategy for the ensuing assembly elections in Bengal admitted in private that differences had cropped up between the party’s state president Dilip Ghosh and Roy.
An MP from the state, on condition of anonymity, said Ghosh and Roy were not on the same page on expanding the party’s base in the state. The Ghosh camp is of the view that the party will bag at least 190 of the 294 seats if elections were to be held today.
The MP said Roy did not subscribe to such an optimistic projection and insisted that the party should try and expand its base among the Muslims, who constitute 27 per cent of the state’s population.
Roy, who still enjoys a good rapport with several prominent Muslim religious leaders, even suggested that he could try and win over at least a section of the minorities, the MP added.
The BJP old guard reportedly shot down the proposal angrily and argued that such a move would be hara-kiri. It is not the first time that Roy is getting into trouble with the party hardliners for his minority overtures.
Last year, he was riled by a section of state BJP leaders after he facilitated the induction of former TMC leader Monirul Islam into the party with the backing of the party’s central leadership. Within a week of joining the party, Islam had offered to resign from the BJP as many of his new party colleagues wanted to see his back.
Roy, at that time, had said if minorities wanted to join the BJP, how could one stop them. Incidentally, only last week, former footballer Mehtab Hossain quit the BJP within 24 hours of joining the party.
A truce was reportedly brokered by Union Minister Babul Supriyo and the party’s Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta. Sources in the BJP said the duo convinced Amit Shah about the utility of Roy in the party ahead of the assembly elections.
Sources further said Roy had been asked to fly to Delhi by Friday to meet Shah. Roy, however, neither confirmed nor denied the development, saying he would not like to disclose to the press details of his telephonic conversation he had with the party central leaders.
The political observers in the state said both the BJP and Roy needed each other.
“As of now, the BJP has a real chance of winning most seats in north Bengal districts, but in the southern parts of the state, the party has not made deep inroads. So, there it will need votes beyond its core Hindutva base. There lies the importance of Roy, who is capable of poaching leaders from other parties,” said Probir Pramanik, a senior journalist in the state.
For Roy, it will not be easy to leave the BJP with CBI cases pending against him. The investigations in the Saradha scam, CBI sources said, had been completed and that a draft charge sheet had been prepared. It was being scrutinised by the agency’s legal department.
The Enforcement Directorate, which is looking into the money-laundering aspects of the Narada tape scam, had sent a notice to Roy earlier this month seeking details of his bank accounts and other assets.
Roy rubbished the allegations of the CBI hanging like the proverbial sword of Damocles over his head.
“There is no CBI case against me in the Saradha scam. One case in Narada tape incident is pending in the High Court,” Roy said, adding he had already submitted the asset details the ED had sought from him.