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Mukul Roy joins BJP: Political crossover exposes rift between party's Bengal unit and central leadership

Mukul Roy's joining BJP was a foregone conclusion, but the fact that this mere formality took so much time to materialise should tell us that this marriage of convenience is underwritten by mutual discomfort. There were enough telltale signs in Friday's news conference where the veteran Trinamool Congress leader donned the saffron scarf to indicate that both BJP and Roy are still apprehensive of the moral flexibility that each must show to make this marriage work.

Former TMC leader Mukul Roy after joining Bharatiya Janata Party in New Delhi on Friday. PTI

Former TMC leader Mukul Roy after joining Bharatiya Janata Party in New Delhi on Friday. PTI

Amit Shah was present in the party's New Delhi headquarters on Friday when Roy was inducted into the fold, yet he chose not to attend the news conference — leaving Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, BJP's Bengal minder Kailash Vijayvargiya and Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta to do the needful.

The ceremonial welcome was functional, even awkward. Law minister Prasad left early after introducing Roy as a "veteran" whose experience in Bengal politics will help expand BJP's presence and insisting that he has joined "unconditionally". The focus was utilitarian and rhetoric was kept at a minimum.

Roy, who was once considered as Mamata Banerjee's right-hand man and chief party strategist, refused to criticise his former leader. He restricted his criticism to "lack of democracy in Bengal" and promised a good show in 2019. In his insistence that BJP is "secular", not a "communal party", Roy exposed his inner dichotomy that still demands a lot of mental adjustments.

The new inductee and the BJP leaders were visibly discomfited and left the venue by saying "the law will take its own course" the moment inevitable questions cropped up on CBI investigation against Roy's alleged involvement in Saradha and Narada scams, as a report in The Quint informs us.

And herein lies the BJP's cognitive dissonance.

On the one hand the party wants to benefit from Roy's networking skills, booth-level organisational strength and eyes the "inside information" that the former 'de facto No.2 in TMC' may bring to the table, on the other hand, the BJP is aware that it now stands robbed of its biggest weapon against Mamata — corruption charges. With Mukul in its stable, the BJP now must get off its moral high horse.

This is a more serious problem for the party than is apparent at first glance because Mamata has been careful to plug most of the loopholes through which BJP has been able to increase its visibility and support. The promise that the BJP had shown in 2014 has been belied, and that has partly been due to the fact that Mamata suffers from none of the complacency issues that plagued Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's CPM or Tarun Gogoi's Congress in Assam.

In a state where it is struggling to get a foothold against a very organised and nimble-footed adversary, the BJP's local unit is likely to see Roy more as a liability than an asset, and the move could turn out to be a net negative one. This is why BJP functionaries in Bengal had been opposed to his entry in the past — because Roy's courting of the BJP isn't exactly a fresh development — and have shown a marked disinterest in his formal induction.

Bengali daily Ei Samay tells us that in a departure from usual practice, no laddoos were distributed at 6, Muralidhar Sen Lane while Dilip Ghosh, chief of BJP's Bengal unit, quipped that BJP has "hundreds of leader like him" even as he praised Roy's organisational skills. Rahul Sinha, the former state unit chief, told the newspaper that "it remains to be seen if BJP benefits from Roy's presence".

If the discord is palpable, why did Shah give green light to Roy's induction? The decision reveals the frustration and impatience of central leadership with the state unit's lack of organisational strength or ability to translate support for Modi into votes. Though the BJP has slowly emerged as the chief Opposition, it has done so entirely at a fading CPM's expense and its rise has in no way affected TMC's progress. Quite clearly, BJP headquarters in Delhi feels that the party needs a push in Bengal since the effort from the current crop of leaders in the state has been inadequate.

A senior leader from the BJP told The Indian Express in Delhi: "No one has the political shrewdness and networking on the ground like Mukul Roy in West Bengal. His knowledge till the booth level is unique. He will be like Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam. He has the ability to make the party stronger and bring electoral gains."

If the calculation is that Roy will do a Sarma in Bengal, the BJP might be in for a bitter surprise because TMC is an extremely organised, cadre-based outfit unlike the Congress, and Mamata's position cannot be even remotely compared to that of Gogoi. For example, no sooner did Roy quit TMC, Mamata urged all party leaders and workers to increase their people-to-people contact.

"There are 77,000 booths which are AITC strongholds. We have been instructed to strengthen our contacts in those booths so that we do not lose contact with common people in these areas," a TMC leader was quoted by Catchnews, as saying.

Beneath the calm exterior, TMC is feeling nervous because Roy might lure away a few dissident leaders from the party. This actually points to a responsiveness within TMC that is the hallmark of Mamata's leadership. It inevitably leads to a more rational assessment of strengths and weaknesses. This is what the BJP lacks. Its move to induct Roy is more of a hopeful arrow into the dark.

Updated Date: Nov 04, 2017 17:45 PM

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