The BJP has its eye on doing well in panchayat elections in Bengal next year and the 2019 general elections. Mukul Roy is a crucial part of that plan.
With ex-Trinamool Congress leader Mukul Roy’s induction into the BJP, the politics in Bengal is likely to become more bipolar. Ever since the TMC, led by its mercurial leader Mamata Banerjee, dislodged the Left from power in 2011, the Left and Congress are on the wane.
In successive by-elections, the BJP has been successful in occupying the second place, leaving the Left and the Congress much behind. Yet, the BJP leadership realised that they lack in experience to organise the popular support and translate into vote. Thus, the leadership started looking for experienced hands outside the ambit of the party.
So far, their attempt to attract senior leaders from the TMC and other major parties yielded little, only Laxman Seth, a former MP of CPI-M, after being thrown out of the party with a number of corruption charges, joined BJP. Now, Mukul Roy, one of founder members of ruling TMC, has joined them.
Significantly, like Seth, Roy is also facing corruption charges; he is under investigation by the CBI and the ED for his alleged involvement in the Saradha Ponzi scheme and the Narada bribery case. While both are known for their organisational abilities, for them joining the BJP is also synonymous with getting a safe haven from all these investigations.
BJP’s expectation is that these leaders would be able to lend their experience in strengthening the party from the booth level to mobilising support and bringing them to ballot boxes during elections. Already, a minor experience with Laxman Seth has yielded positive results. In a recent by-election in Contai (south) assembly constituency, the BJP came second after the TMC with its share of votes going up to 27 per cent. Contai comes within East Medinipur district, a known stronghold of the ruling party. Also, the former CPI-M leader Laxman Seth wields much influence in the neighbourhood.
It is generally understood that the sudden spurt in BJP’s vote share has much to do with Seth and his followers in the Left camp. They must have silently transferred their votes to the BJP. In May 2018, the state will have panchayat elections, followed by the general elections in 2019. So, no wonder that the BJP central leadership is in a hurry to make necessary arrangements to strengthen the party organisation in West Bengal. BJP president Amit Shah has recently suggested that the state unit must keep its doors open to the disgruntled elements from the ruling party.
To drive its point home, the party high command overruled a section of Bengal party office bearers’ objection to the induction of scam-tainted TMC leader, Mukul Roy. Now, the BJP is hoping that Roy would be able to coax some more TMC leaders in coming out of the party and embrace the BJP.
Mukul, after formalising his entry into the BJP, has claimed that “’BJP is not a communal party, it is a secular force”. This is significant because so far in Bengal politics, openly espousing a party’s cause, which is known for practising communal policies, is not generally acceptable.
The legacy of liberal democratic culture veering toward secularism in Bengal society is long. Though occasionally, as and when the provocation occurs, communal riots take place, as it happened in the time of 1984 anti-Sikh riots or post-Babri Mosque demolition in 1992. Yet the Right-wing politics of both Hindu and Muslim organisations (Jan Sangh/BJP and Muslim League) could never occupy the political space in Bengal.
Now, with a government at the Centre and rise of right wing mindset globally, for the first time BJP is sensing a serious opportunity of making an inroad into Bengal. But it doesn’t have any face to offer that would be widely acceptable. That is why the party is desperately looking for people like Mukul Roy and others.
Mamata Banerjee has learnt her lessons after burning her fingers, experimenting with the coalition politics with the BJP at the Centre. In a state where more than 27 per cent population are Muslims, any overtly association with the Hindu right-wing politics is fraught with danger of electoral debacle. Thus, Mamata’s party, which held BJP’s hands at the initial years of 1998-2004, now shuns that. Knowing that her anti-Hindutva politics is suspect (early this year as a knee-jerk reaction to BJP’s aggressive campaign on Ram Vavami day, Banerjee started playing her Hindutva card by chanting ‘slokas’ from various scriptures).
Mamata now routinely attacks BJP and declares her ‘jihad’ against BJP’s communal politics with an eye on the Muslim vote bank. It has started yielding desired result. In two Muslim majority districts of Murshidabd and Malda, hitherto a known bastion of the Congress, now TMC has started growing fast.
Mukul Roy’s importance or perceived importance in Bengal politics stems from the fact that he had played a key role in planning and setting up of an election machinery throughout the length and breadth of the state competing with the Left Front’s organisational skill. Also, after the TMC came to power in 2011, he was instrumental in buying off a number of municipalities and Zilla Parishads run by the opposition parties with threats and enticements. But, the fact that TMC was in power helped convince the elected members in municipalities and panchayats in switching sides.
Now, the same would not be easy to perform with the BJP not in power in the state. Although they can offer lucrative enticements, the absence of a state government behind them would offer little in terms of security.
Yet, Mukul and people of his clan can play an important role in weakening the ruling party. Since the leaders and workers are glued to the party machine that runs with the “oil” coming from state and central coffers for various development works. The state government through their party and administration distributes that fund aiming at creating a large beneficiary class in the society.
Mukul knows the importance of creating this benefactor-beneficiary relation. If he urges and BJP obliges him by stifling the flow of fund from the Centre to Bengal, then it would jeopardise Mamata’s game plan. The fragile nature of Mamata’s party will be further exposed once the ED and CBI start putting pressure on TMC leaders linked to Saradha and Narada scams. Then BJP will have more seasoned but tainted politicians with them. Whether that would bring BJP closer to state power or not is difficult to guess at this stage.
The author is associated with the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group