Kolkata: Former Union minister Mukul Roy’s elevation as BJP national vice-president was the big takeaway for members in West Bengal as the party effected an organisational reshuffle Saturday.
Three leaders from the state have been picked for the party’s national team of office-bearers. Apart from Roy, the two others are former parliamentarian Anupam Hazra and Lok Sabha MP Raju Bista, who will now serve as national secretary and national spokesperson, respectively.
Another notable change is that Rahul Sinha has been removed as national secretary.
The reshuffle is being seen by leaders and experts as a message from the BJP that it is ready to reward members’ work in the party, even if they are turncoats. Both Roy and Hazra are former Trinamool Congress leaders, and a senior BJP leader described their elevation as a “hint” to others who may want to jump ship but are hesitant.
“Many turncoats from Trinamool are now MPs and holding important positions,” the leader added.
Bista, meanwhile, is a political greenhorn from a corporate background who joined the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The appointments come less than a year before the Bengal assembly elections.
Sights on 2021 Bengal assembly polls
A former national general secretary in the Trinamool Congress, Roy joined the BJP in 2017. He was made the chief of the election committee in 2019. His elevation comes amid speculation that leaders who joined the BJP with him were resentful about the fact that he had not been given a prominent position in the party.
There were also rumours of Roy trying to re-join Trinamool and meeting its leaders. But his appointment to the central BJP team is expected to address these concerns.
Speaking to ThePrint after the announcement, Roy said he “will work in tandem with the state unit and its president Dilip Ghosh for the elections”.
Talking about the reshuffle, Kailash Vijaywargiya, BJP national general secretary in charge of West Bengal, said, in 2019, Roy’s leadership and election strategy had helped the party win 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats (the party had won two seats in Bengal in 2014).
Bista, he added, is playing an important role in Gorkha politics.
“Mukul Roy is a veteran political strategist, under whom the BJP did well in the general elections. He also worked hard to expand the party in Bengal. He must have been rewarded,” he added.
“We want him to work fully for the 2021 Bengal assembly elections and we are sure that, under his leadership, the BJP will form the government here.”
MP Swapan Dasgupta, who is a BJP nominee in the Rajya Sabha, said Roy has been one of the major players in handling elections in the state since 2018. “He also galvanised support for the party and drew members of other political parties to the BJP. So, here is a message that anyone who is interested in joining the BJP will get their due recognition in the party. We do not underestimate and downplay anyone’s worth,” he added.
Among the other two inductees, Bista’s appointment as national spokesperson is part of the BJP’s outreach to the state’s Gorkha voterbase.
Talking about Bista, the BJP MP from Darjeeling, Vijaywargiya said, “Gorkha politics is also gaining momentum. Darjeeling is important for us. We want Raju to work more and raise the relevant issues of Gorkhas and Bengal nationally.” Over the past year, Bista has been frequently known to raise issues pertaining to Bengal with the national media.
Hazra, meanwhile, is a surprise appointment. A former MP who won the Bolpur Lok Sabha seat in 2014, he joined the BJP in 2019, after being expelled from the Trinamool Congress for “anti-party” activities. He is not believed to wield much influence in the Bengal BJP.
He was fielded from the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat last year, but was defeated by actor-politician Mimi Chakrabarti of the Trinamool Congress.
Sinha’s exclusion as national secretary, sources said, is a clear indication of the party losing faith in him after giving him multiple chances.
He is said to have “failed” to make a mark in the BJP’s efforts to expand its presence in the state. Sinha was fielded from the Jorasanko assembly constituency in 2016 and from the Kolkata North Lok Sabha seat in 2019, but lost both elections “despite there being much anti-incumbency”, said a senior BJP leader. He could not do much for the organisation either, he added.
In a video clip circulated after the announcement, Sinha is heard expressing disappointment with the decision to drop him. “I served the BJP for 40 years and I had to leave my position for a former Trinamool leader. This is unfortunate. I will speak about it in 10 days.”
‘Bengal’s growing relevance’
The elevation of three members from Bengal to the national level shows the growing importance and significance of the state for the BJP, said Dasgupta.
“Bengal’s relevance for the national party has grown exponentially following the 2019 election results. Earlier, Bengal was hardly recognised in the national system,” he added.
Sisir Bajoria, a member of the BJP’s state executive committee, said Roy’s elevation is “probably the first time a Bengali has made it to the rank of BJP national vice-president rank”.
“Syama Prasad Mookerjee was the president of the Jana Sangh. To the best of my knowledge, Roy is the first one to become the national vice-president of the BJP,” he added.
Political experts echoed the view expressed by the unnamed BJP leader quoted above, that Roy’s elevation is a “clear signal” for Trinamool leaders “willing” to defect.
“This position almost completes the political circle for Mukul Roy. He was the national general secretary of Bengal’s ruling party. But after defecting to the BJP, he was not getting any official recognition. This naturally irked him. The new position establishes him in the party,” said political analyst Prof Biswanath Chakraborti.
“He will plan the election and more defections with authority now. Moreover, this will encourage all the potential defectors of Trinamool to defect,” he added.
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