Kolkata: Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee’s visit to a Kolkata hospital Wednesday to see BJP leader Mukul Roy’s ailing wife has set the political circles abuzz. With a host of Trinamool Congress-turned-BJP leaders publicly seeking “ghar wapsi”, Banerjee’s visit has only added grist to the rumour mills.
A call to Roy from Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed by a visit of state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh to the hospital soothed frayed nerves in the BJP camp but the ruling party at the Centre is struggling to keep its flock in Bengal together.
In the run-up to the 2021 West Bengal assembly election, as the BJP launched an aggressive campaign to win the state, scores of Trinamool Congress members left the ruling party. These included senior leaders like Suvendu Adhikari, who is now the leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, besides former ministers Rajib Banerjee and Bachhu Hansda, former deputy speaker Sonali Guha, and former MLAs Sarala Murmu, Amal Acharya, and Dipendu Biswas.
However, the BJP ended up losing the elections, with Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee leading her party to a third consecutive landslide in the state.
Ever since, many of the turncoats have made public appeals for return to the Trinamool Congress. These include Guha, Hansda, Murmu, Acharya and Biswas.
In letters to CM Banerjee and social media posts, these leaders have spoken of their “disillusionment” with the BJP and their “remorse”.
The BJP’s real worry, however, is the potential return of senior leaders like Rajib Banerjee, who has allegedly flown under the radar over the past few weeks, and Roy, the party’s national vice-president who is believed to have triggered concerns “with his silence” about the post-poll violence, among other issues.
Speaking to ThePrint, senior BJP leaders insisted that the “loyal members of the party” remain united even as they dismissed those “opportunistic” members looking to return to Trinamool. An equivalent amount of scorn is reserved for these leaders in the Trinamool Congress, where members have urged the brass to not take them back for six months at least.
ThePrint reached Roy for a comment, but his secretary said he was not in a position to talk since his wife is “extremely critical”. Rajib Banerjee answered a call by this reporter but said he was at someone’s funeral and excused himself. He did not respond to subsequent calls.
ThePrint sent him a detailed questionnaire through texts and WhatsApp messages, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.
The Trinamool Congress turncoats, some of whom left after being denied tickets, have expressed much remorse for their decision to quit the party. In a letter to the CM, former footballer Biswas said joining the BJP was a “blunder”.
Biswas, who quit the BJP last month, is still awaiting a response to his letter. “I quit the BJP the day I saw the CBI arresting senior ministers in the middle of the Covid surge,” he told ThePrint. “It was sheer political vendetta. Now I am not associated with any political party, and am investing time in my sports career. I will look forward to Didi’s response and will surely return to Trinamool if Didi calls me back,” added Biswas, who is now the secretary of Kolkata’s Mohammedan Sporting Club.
Guha, who was one of the closest aides of Mamata Banerjee, joined the BJP after being dropped off the Trinamool candidate list. In a Facebook post last month, she said she had committed a blunder by joining the BJP and it was an impulsive decision. She requested Banerjee to take her back.
The BJP finds itself on the threshold of this defection spree just as it comes to terms with widespread resentment among party members in the state. With many local BJP members attacked in the violence that followed the 2 May election results, there is a feeling of abandonment on the ground, with cadres feeling that the Delhi — and even Kolkata — leadership left them to fend for themselves.
The critics on this front include former governor Tathagata Roy, who continues to criticise BJP national general secretary in charge of Bengal Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP national general secretary Arvind Menon, and state party chief Dilip Ghosh.
In a tweet this week, he said he felt “helpless” as party workers were “driven out” of their houses due to post-poll violence. Top leaders have “run away” and “D” (read Dilip Ghosh) does not take calls, he added. In response, it was state minister Chandrima Bhattacharya who assured him of strict action against those responsible for the violence.
A very close person came crying today. Said a few thousand men who had worked for BJP hv bn driven out by Trinamooli goons. They will possibly have to pay hefty sums of money to be allowed to return. I am helpless. Of the state leaders KSA have run away. D doesn’t receive calls!
— Tathagata Roy (@tathagata2) June 2, 2021
Sir, requesting you to share further details on this matter so we may urgently help everyone return home safely irrespective of their party affiliation.
We also assure that strict disciplinary action will be initiated against anyone found involved in such intimidation tactics. https://t.co/rfP5DdYQ4c
— Chandrima Bhattacharya (@Chandrimaaitc) June 3, 2021
‘There will be rumours’
BJP’s worries about its situation in the state mounted when Abhishek Banerjee, the chief minister’s nephew, visited Roy’s wife Krishna who has been admitted in a private Kolkata hospital since 15 May. Roy quit Trinamool in 2017.
In a 30 May Facebook post that he later deleted, Roy’s son Subhrangshu, a former MLA, wrote that the BJP needs to do “self-criticism” before criticising the elected government.
Asked about the buzz surrounding Roy, a top central BJP leader who didn’t wish to be named dismissed it as rumour. “Immediately after the results on 2 May, there has been a buzz in party circles — both Trinamool and BJP — about Mukul Roy being ‘missing in action’, but drawing an end to the speculation, Mukul Roy tweeted assuring his loyalty to the BJP,” said the leader.
“There will be rumours, some floated by the Trinamool Congress to create a divide in the BJP. But we, as a party, are together in this fight against Mamata Banerjee,” the leader added. “All our loyal soldiers are united. The ones who made some opportunistic move just before the elections want to return. They should leave.”
Reached for a comment, Subhrangshu said from the hospital: “I am talking to doctors, mother is very critical. We will talk about this once she recovers.”
Meanwhile, much buzz also surrounds Rajib Banerjee, one of the Trinamool leaders who were flown to Delhi in a chartered flight by the BJP for induction on 30 January.
Banerjee lost the 2021 election to Trinamool’s Kalyan Ghosh by 42,000 votes. The Trinamool turncoat was in charge of Howrah district, where the BJP lost all 16 assembly constituencies.
He is believed to have been largely inactive in the party over the past few weeks and did not participate in the first meeting held by Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari in May.
On 11 May, he attended a state BJP committee meeting. His Twitter and Facebook accounts do not have any posts over the past few weeks about his current party and its post-poll campaign against alleged incidents of violence. His social media bio refers to him as a “politician and social worker” and does not show any party affiliation.
Until recently, his cover photo was one showing his induction into the BJP, but it has now been removed.
A senior leader of the BJP noted that despite “over a dozen party workers getting killed and thousands displaced from their houses due to post-poll violence in the state, Rajib Banerjee has remained largely silent on the issue”.
Another senior leader said Banerjee’s wife, who is not a political person, met the chief minister a few days ago.
Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said there had been no communication from Rajib Banerjee since he participated in the last state committee meeting on 11 May.
Asked about the attempts being made by turncoats to return to the Trinamool, he said: “Nobody has resigned. And none have spoken to me as of now. I have also seen posts on social media. They came on their own, we did not ask them to join us. And we will also not stop them from going back.”
Ghosh added: “In fact, unreliable characters should leave the BJP. It will help us strengthen our organisation. We won in 2019 without them, and we will again win without them.”
Former MLA Baishali Dalmiya, daughter of former International Cricket Council (ICC) president Jagmohan Dalmiya and one of the three former MLAs from Howrah flown to Delhi for induction in January, said the leaders should fight back instead of “just jumping around from one party to another”.
“I did not quit the Trinamool, but was expelled for raising my voice against corruption and malpractices. I lost the election, but that did not stop me from working for people. I am with the BJP and working for the people in my constituency,” she added. “I don’t know who wants to go back just two weeks after defeat. We should fight back and not just jump around from one party to another.”
‘Not musical chairs’
Within the Trinamool, there is much contempt against the turncoats. None of the turncoats who have issued public appeals for return to the Trinamool Congress has yet to receive a response from the party.
“Rajib Banerjee is one of those who deserted us just two months before elections. They were made to look like lions, while they are just mice. He won from Domjur in Howrah with a margin of around 1 lakh in 2016, but lost this year. This proves that such persons do not have any acceptability,” said veteran Trinamool MP Sougata Roy.
“The political parties are not musical chairs. Politics is not a joke. You cannot always be a part of a ruling party,” he added. “You may win or lose, but you need to be loyal. These defectors have made politics a farce. We have won without them. The defectors should not be taken back in the next six months. But Mamata Banerjee’s call is final,” he added.
Arup Roy, a minister and senior Trinamool Congress leader, agreed. “It is a call to be taken by our leader, Mamata Banerjee. But our party and the government are now battling against Covid. We do not have time to think about those who left us to join BJP just a few months before the elections.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)