Mukul Roy was perhaps only following in the tradition of his party leader Mamata Banerjee, when he preferred to give higher preference to the politics of his home state, rather than the national ministry that was assigned to him. As railway minister for close to six months, most Railway employees would be forigven for believing that their Minister came with an elastic band attached to his leg that pulled him back home whenever he left it.
Appointed after Dinesh Trivedi took the bold and hitherto unheard of decision to hike passenger railway fares, Roy did what was expected of him by Mamata Banerjee. He withdrew the hike and left the rest of the budget unchanged, leaving Trivedi to pontificate on spirituality and Bhagat Singh on national television; and letting the Railways deal with the catch-22 situation of raising standards without any money in its coffers.
Until his sudden elevation to the Cabinet post, Roy was perhaps best known as the Minister of State for Railways, who sulked and refused to visit the site of a rail accident in 2011 despite being asked to. This had then led to Manmohan Singh reportedly refusing to let him be elevated to Railway Minister.
He spent most of his time as minister of state for shipping in Kolkata promoting the party. In a detailed profile of the 57-year-old minister, the Business Standard highlighted how he preferred to spend time at the Trinamool Congress headquarters rather than even visit his family. In fact, he seems to have preferred spending time at the party headquarters rather than anything else, if the report is to be believed.
The minister’s absences at the Railway Ministry are well documented. One report said that he had made around 20 appearances at Rail Bhavan in 115 days, since taking charge of the ministry. However, there were also reports that all important files were sent to Roy in Kolkata for his approval, to ensure crucial projects didn’t get held up.
The Rajdhani Express from Delhi to Kolkata was reportedly used daily to ferry files to between Rail Bhawan and Roy’s office at Nizam Palace, but often returned late. And not because of any issues with the punctuality of the train.
“Mamata was known to be a non-resident railway minister but she at least took some minimal interest in railway functioning. Roy, on the other hand, is completely uninterested and indifferent,” a Railway Board member was quoted as saying in a India Today report.
However, Roy had constantly defended his actions and said in this age of modern communications, he didn’t need to be in office.
“Statistics will show how many days I have come to Rail Bhavan. In any case I don’t have to come to office every day,” Roy was quoted as saying in the The Indian Express.
Roy’s presence at the Cabinet was also cosmetic with the minister preferring to stay away from EGoM meetings, Cabinet meetings and basically anything that dragged him out of Kolkata. He also didn’t attend the crucial Cabinet meet at which FDI in multi-brand retail was approved and diesel prices were hiked. But that was perhaps the only time he had a ready-made absent note in place and happily used it, saying that he had to attend a function because the President was visiting Kolkata.
And if the government had hoped to get in touch with Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, that also had little effect, since he claimed he never received any of the messages himself, let alone pass them on to the party leader. And he was even defended by Mamata when she said she had never received any messages from the government.
Roy will perhaps have little written about him, primarily because he never did anything that anyone outside of West Bengal will know about, and will go down in history as the reluctant minister who never could stay away from home long enough to do anything for the nation.