When Tathagata Roy, the 73-year-old governor of Meghalaya, tweeted an appeal from a retired colonel of the Indian Army, without naming him, to “boycott everything Kashmiri”, he set off a storm, eliciting condemnation from across the political spectrum. This even prompted Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad from the BJP to say that he didn’t agree with Roy.
But it was not the first time the governor has made news for the wrong reasons. Unlike most of his contemporaries who at least attempt to be worthy of the gravitas once they are elevated to the constitutional position, Roy has been happy to find an even wider audience for his often toxic views. These can best be described as a relentless spewing of hatred towards Muslims and conspiracy theories about the deaths of Right-wing ideologues Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.
Throw into the mix a visceral abhorrence for Jawaharlal Nehru and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. And we have an educated chauvinist and a seemingly urbane communalist, who is able to eloquently articulate the RSS’ deepest, darkest antipathies to the secular nature of the Constitution.
It is what makes Tathagata Roy a popular Right-wing figure, followed by over 97,000 people on Twitter. Some call him a “rockstar governor” and demand that his account be verified.
Roy may have twice fought and lost Lok Sabha elections from West Bengal, but on Twitter he is a winner — finding an audience for his views on everything from Bengali Leftists to the Pulwama terror attacks.
As he said in an email interview to me: “Some out-of-the-box thinking is called for. We have persisted for three decades in conventional responses, both political and military, which have brought about thousands of deaths of our security forces and the Paki terrorists, and many non-combatants by way of collateral damage.”
One has to merely read his 19 February tweet to understand what this “out-of-the-box” thinking could be:
Or what this “conventional response” is – as he wrote on 23 March 2015 – commenting on a tweet that questioned the “fighting spirit” of Hindus:
Tathagata Roy is a great advocate of what he calls “hidden history”, according to which in 1944, Mahatma Gandhi, upon C.R. Rajagopalachari’s advice, went to see Jinnah and conceded Pakistan. All other Congress leaders were in jail then. Or his series of tweets on in 2016 linking post-Partition attacks on Hindus in then East Pakistan to the violence in Malda: “On 12 February 1950, all trains crossing the Meghna Bridge at Ashugonj (now Bangladesh) were stopped, all Hindus stabbed and thrown into river…In 1950 pogrom (NOT RIOT) almost all Hindus in villages Muladi, Madhabpasha, Lakutia, Rajapur in Barisal were mercilessly slaughtered… The 1950 bloodbath of Barisal and Meghna Bridge! Young men and women, ask your grandparents what happened? Kaliachak is possibly the last warning.”
Much of Roy’s understanding of history is self-taught. He ascribes it to his stint as a teacher at Jadavpur University, where he was professor and head of the department of construction engineering – he joined the BJP on the same date as joining the university, 2 July 1990.
“Being in touch with young minds was a wonderfully invigorating experience,” Tathagata Roy said. “It also rekindled the bibliophile in me. I eventually started reading history, especially the history of the pre-Independence period in India and became a devout admirer of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee. That was what drove me to write his biography (Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Life and Times, Penguin-Random House India, Gurgaon, 2018). I have also written the Bengali versions of the two books.” Prior to that, he had an excellent record as an officer of the Indian Railways Service of Engineers, working as a general manager, RITES, and chief engineer-design of Metro Railways, Kolkata.
But he couldn’t escape the radicalisation of his youth. When he was in the fourth year of his course in Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur, in 1965, some Hindu students from East Pakistan University of Engineering and Technology, Dhaka (EPUET, now BUET) came and enrolled in his class. “I became friends with them and learnt that they had been subjected to untold persecution (one had been murdered) purely because they were Hindus, in the wake of the Hazratbal incident of Kashmir, with which East Pakistani Hindus had nothing whatever to do. And there was practically no reaction in West Bengal to this. That made me think that there is something basically wrong with what passes for ‘secularism’ in India. I was also exercised over the fact that the exodus of Hindus from erstwhile East Pakistan was completely forgotten, swept under the carpet, even by the very victims among whom my extended family was also there,” he told me. Later, he would write a book about it (My People Uprooted, Synergy Books India, Delhi, 2016).
That acquaintance with the East Pakistani students eventually drove him to the RSS in 1986. He was deeply influenced by Guru M.S. Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak, calling him an organisational genius, and whose book – Bunch of Thoughts – he would read after he had joined the RSS. Tathagata Roy eventually decided to join the BJP, even though his family was inclined towards the Congress, and ”my younger brother Saugata is in that gharana, currently a Trinamool Congress MP”.
He added: ”We were almost congenitally anti-Left, so were a lot of other people who were embarrassed to say so, because it was then fashionable among Bengalis to be Left.” Saugata Roy is a five-time MLA, three-time MP, as well as a former Union minister.
When the elder Roy joined the BJP in 1990, he was welcomed by Murli Manohar Joshi who was then the observer for West Bengal. L.K. Advani, who had a particular fascination for collecting Bengali intellectuals around him, among them editors Chandan Mitra, who has since joined the TMC, and Swapan Dasgupta, who has become a Rajya Sabha MP, was the BJP president. At that point, says Roy, ”I was just an ordinary member and very far removed from Advaniji. Later I came to know Advaniji very well. He wrote the foreword for my biography of Dr S.P. Mookerjee.”
Political analyst Tufail Ahmed says Roy’s tweets are a symptom of a broader movement of ideas taking root in Indian society and based on the principle of counter pluralism. “This proposes exclusion of everything Muslim, whether it the destruction of Jama Masjid, renaming towns and railway stations, or targeting Muslim institutions such as Aligarh Muslim University. As governor, Mr Roy should have supported any message that treats Kashmiris as Indians. By calling for the boycott of everything Kashmiri, he is basically supporting secessionist politics in Kashmir and in fact the exclusion of Kashmir from India.”
University of Pennsylvania scholar Saswati Sarkar who has been tracking his statements also points out that his views on Hindu Bengali refugees from “East Pakistan” are not only utterly racist, but also factually erroneous. Sarkar has co-written articles, which analyse this in detail quoting among other things his tweets such as this from 14 June, 2017: “We gave nation Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Netaji. All revolutionaries listed in Andaman. We also fled East Bengal without protest, chuha-like.”
And then this from 28 November, 2017:
When Sarkar called him out, he blocked her.
Tathagata Roy was president of the BJP in West Bengal between 2002 and 2006, and was appointed the governor of Tripura in 2015, and then of Meghalaya in 2018. He was also briefly the governor of Arunachal Pradesh when Pema Khandu was sworn in as the tenth chief minister after a period of intense instability, which saw both the late Kalikho Pul and Nabam Tuki being ousted.
But the office and its authority have done very little to dampen Roy’s enthusiasm for Twitter or his pet peeves. Quoting former president S. Radhakrishnan on the death of his icon Mookerjee, Tathagata Roy said, “When great wrongs are committed, it is criminal to be silent in the hope that truth will one day find its voice. In a democratic society, one should speak out, especially when we are developing an unequalled power of not seeing what we do not wish to see.”
And he reiterates: ”I formally state that my Twitter statements have not undermined my constitutional authority. That authority is defined by the Constitution itself and as interpreted by the Supreme Court and various high courts, as Article 141 of the Constitution says. I am not obliged to follow anyone’s personal interpretation of the Constitution.”
Especially since he is fortunate enough to occupy a position of authority sanctioned by it.
The author is a senior journalist.