India

BJP's Mukul Roy Returns To Mamata Banerjee's Party

BJP's Mukul Roy Returns To Mamata Banerjee's Party

Mukul Roy was once the closest aide of Mamata Banerjee. (File)

Kolkata:

Mukul Roy, the BJP's first import from Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress in Bengal, returned to his former party today along with son Shubhranshu, ending weeks of speculation.

"Ghorer chhele ghore phirlo (Mukul has returned home)," said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. He was never a traitor like the others, she stressed.

Mr Roy added: "I feel great at seeing my old colleagues,  after leaving the BJP.  I can't be in the BJP." He described the Chief Minister as "the only leader of Bengal and India".

To the uncomfortable question of his repeated attacks on "Didi" in the past, Mr Roy replied: "I never had any differences with Mamata Banerjee."

Mr Roy drove to the Trinamool Bhawan an hour before the press conference and reportedly walked to his old room in the building that he left in 2017.

Operation Return of the Prodigal, reportedly led by Mamata Banerjee, has only just started, said Trinamool Congress leaders, hinting that more leaders were on their way back to the mothership.

Mukul Roy, a founder member of the Trinamool, was its General Secretary when he quit; the post has now gone to the Chief Minister's nephew Abhishek Banerjee, who first reached out to Mr Roy and his family.

Abhishek Banerjee last week visited Mr Roy at the hospital where his wife is admitted. The very next day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly spoke to Mr Roy on the phone to ask after his wife's health, reflecting the BJP's nervousness.

The homecoming of its leaders, including those who switched just before the April-May Bengal election, is part of the Trinamool's forward planning for 2024. Its goal is to prevent a repeat of 2019, when the BJP scored big gains at the Trinamool's cost.

Mr Roy's return was key.

Mamata Banerjee signalled it even when she was campaigning for the state election when she said at a public rally: "Mukul Roy is not a bad as Suvendu Adhikari".

For the BJP, he had been a big acquisition that had fanned its hopes for a political coup in Bengal. Mr Roy and his supporters did deliver in 2019, but the dream soured by the time it came to the state election.

Sources say Mukul Roy had told close associates about feeling "suffocated" in the party. His frustration was amplified by the BJP's defeat in the Bengal election. The former Trinamool MP concluded that the BJP's political culture and ethos is alien to Bengal and it is doomed to remain an "outsider" in the foreseeable future.

"No one has their finger on their pulse of the people like Mamata Banerjee," sources close to Mukul Roy said quoting the leader as saying. "Certainly not the BJP or those who have jumped from Trinamool," he reportedly said.

His resentment is believed to be directed at Suvendu Adhikari, another Mamata Banerjee aide who quickly became the BJP's most favoured after he joined the party in December. The BJP has invested heavily in Mr Adhikari, whose victory over Mamata Banerjee in Nandigram turned out to be the only solace for the party in an otherwise disastrous outing.

Sources say many former Trinamool leaders who followed Mr Adhikari before the Bengal election want to come back.

After a long time, the Trinamool has these defectors exactly where it wants them. Sources say the party is eager to "strike while the iron is hot" and break off a chunk of the BJP, preferably a bigger one than the section that left the Trinamool before the election.