In the major political parties of West Bengal there is always one leader who knows the organisation better than its most prominent face. Pramode Dasgupta knew the organisation of CPI(M) better than Chief Minister Jyoti Basu; during Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s tenure it was Anil Biswas, and after Biswas’s death Biman Bose. During Mamata Banerjee’s rule, Mukul Roy has more information on the Trinamool Congress resources than the maverick chief minister.
But that describes Mukul Roy, 60, partially. He is the party’s general secretary and its No 2 leader.
“He is a sort of man who pledged his loyalty unquestionably, completely and sustainably with the party leader (Mamata)—he used to run the party, oversee the election machinery and even manage party finances. There are not many who can be comfortable in his shoes,” said a young Trinamool leader as speculation grows that Roy could be arrested when he walks into the off-white, matchbox-like building that houses the CBI office in Kolkata’s Salt Lake sometime next week and is questioned in connection with the multi-crore Saradha scam.
Though this young leader was mentored by Roy, his words can hardly be exaggerated. Roy was an asset to the party in more senses than one. In a party where very few enjoy the trust of Mamata Banerjee, Roy had the privilege. And why not?
Down the years he has delivered what Mamata Banerjee expected of him.
In 2014, it was Roy who countered Narendra Modi’s election assault in West Bengal. Trinamool conceded just a couple of seats (Asansol to Babul Supriyo and Darjeeling to S S Ahluwalia). Roy’s handling of the election machinery helped Trinamool win 34 of the state’s 42 Lok seats: a feat that even the CPI(M) could not achieve in the 34 years of its rule.
That was not the only occasion when Roy had served his party well. In 2011, when Mamata Banerjee made history by defeating the Left Front that had ruled West Bengal since 1977, Roy was the architect of the victory that got global attention for her. The Trinamool’s success in the 2013 panchayat polls are also credited to him.
“He works like a mean machine. He travels all over the state, knows every subdivision, tours every state where Mamata Banerjee wants to expand her party’s footprint, does all the trouble-shooting, and most importantly keeps his head cool. He is rarely heard shouting,” said an investor who has been close to the party since it came to power in May 2011.
Mamata Banerjee’s worry is that Roy is showing signs of turning against her. Party insiders told Hindustan Times that if CBI corners Roy with evidence—he is alleged to have deep links with Saradha and its arrested chairman Sudipta Sen—he would sing.
Kunal Ghosh, the Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP who is under arrest in connection with the scam, has repeatedly alleged that both Mamata Banerjee and Roy were present in a late night meeting with Sudipta Sen in March 2012 at the Delo hill resort near Kalimpong.
Roy never commented on such allegations all these months, but in Delhi recently he admitted to being present at the Delo meeting. Hs brief comment was a cryptic indicator of the information that he may share with the CBI. It was also clear the real target of the message was none other than the chief minister.
Arvind Chauhan, the driver of Sudipta Sen, has has already said in public that the Saradha chief met Roy in Kolkata on April 8, 2013. Soon after the meeting Sen fled from Kolkata.
Former Trinamool leader Asif Khan, who is being investigated in the scam, too has alleged that Mukul Roy not only met Sen, but also benefited from the Saradha group’s operations.
Nothing can be more threatening to Mamata Banerjee and the party as a whole if Roy is arrested. Roy knows more uncomfortable truths than perhaps the chief minister herself. One such ‘truth’ is regularly referred to by CPI(M) leader and former heavyweight minister Gautam Deb.
In April 2011, days before the assembly elections, Deb alleged Trinamool used “black money" to fight the polls. Roy slapped a criminal defamation case against Deb, but political circles are now speculating that the CBI could question him to find out whether what the CPI(M) leader was referring to was actually money from Saradha and other chit fund entities.
There are more indications that if CBI officials pile on the pressure, Roy would not hesitate to point the finger at the chief minister. Last year, it was revealed that Saradha Group had bagged a contract from Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation for Mamata Banerjee’s pet project: the 'Bharat Tirth' programme, a 16-train service to 10 pilgrimage centres that offered low-budget travel, accommodation and food.
Roy was quick to point out that the contract was not awarded during his tenure as railway minister but the hint was clear. The deal was struck in 2010, when Mamata was the railway minister and challenged her claim that she came to know of the Saradha group after the anchors of a TV channel held a emotional, tearful programme lamenting that the authorities (the Saradha Group) were closing them down in the spring of 2013.
That Mamata Banerjee was not feeling comfortable with Roy was evident in the way she was distancing from the leader over the past few months. Roy was not seen speaking on party matters and programmes on different occasions. Recently, the Bengal chief minister clipped Roy's wings by announcing that she will be looking after party matters as well.
Party insiders quickly interpreted it as both a public posture to maintain distance with someone who has come increasingly under CBI glare with tell-tale signs of his Saradha involvement, and a measure to ensure that he was cut off from the huge breed of loyalists Roy bred in different layers of the party.
Trinamool leaders would often point out that Roy was also not happy with the way his son Subhrangshu, a Trinamool MLA from North 24 Parganas district, was sidelined and Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhisekh was continuously elevated and empowered in the party hierarchy.
However, Trinamool Lok Sabha MP and core committee member Sultan Ahmed told HT, "It has been announced by the party's supreme leader that Mukul Roy is the all-India general secretary and will remain so. It is also quite evident that BJP is out to settle political scores against our party."
Right now, there is fierce speculation across the state to read Roy’s mind. While some believe that he was trying to broker a deal with BJP in Delhi to save himself from arrest, others believe he would bare all to take the entire party leadership with him and not sink alone.
“It is true that he tried to somehow knock on the doors of BJP leadership, just as Mamata Banerjee knocked on doors of our senior leaders in Delhi. But both got no response,” said Rahul Sinha, BJP state president.
“It is clear to all that Roy is involved in the chit fund scam as well as the fact that Mamata Banerjee is next in CBI’s radar,” said Sujan Chakraborty, CPI(M) state secretariat member.
Speculation has gone to the extent that if saved the handcuffs, Roy would try to engineer a spilt in the party that would benefit BJP in the next assembly polls in 2016, or earlier.
“Mukul Roy knows the party organisation and resources including the election winning machinery like his palm. Over time, Roy has also posted his followers at key positions in the party ranks in the districts. He worked tirelessly in building the organisational set up,” said a senior leader of Trinamool Congress.