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The nowhere man

Trinamool Congress’s Saugata Roy once hit the headlines following wild allegations of a relationship with him by a woman who landed at his house one fine morning. He was also recently shown the door by a colleague in the Union Cabinet, because he violated the smoking ban at a meeting. But there is more to the flamboyant minister than scandals, writes Kumkum Chadha.

india Updated: Jun 29, 2009 00:19 IST
Kumkum Chadha

Trinamool Congress’s Saugata Roy once hit the headlines following wild allegations of a relationship with him by a woman who landed at his house one fine morning. He was also recently shown the door by a colleague in the Union Cabinet, because he violated the smoking ban at a meeting. But there is more to the flamboyant minister than scandals.

Born nine days before India attained independence, Saugata Roy easily ranks among the bright politicians gone wrong. A first-rate orator, he has held both Parliament and West Bengal Assembly spellbound. In the 1990s, he used to steal the show while speaking on the budget. Jealous of his growing popularity, his adversaries in the party smuggled a tape recorder into the Assembly and played the controversial Choli ke peeche kya hai… film song while he was speaking. It did the trick: the focus shifted from Roy to the foot tapping number. “Clearly it was meant to upstage him” said Robin Deb, formerly Chief Whip Left Front in state assembly.

The slide began when Roy hopped from one party to another. The list is long: back and forth from the Congress to the Trinamool Congress, to the Lok Dal and Congress (S) when his mentor Priyaranjan Das Munshi crossed over. In the Janata Dal he was minister and when in the Opposition, he contested against his current leader and party chief Mamata Banerjee. She perhaps never forgave him for that and even while letting him join her Trinamool Congress, sidelined him within the Party.

He was often denied a chance to speak in the Assembly and whenever he did, the magic was missing. Added to this, his close links with Left parties and Mamata Banerjee’s distrust was complete. Deb sees “floor crossing a big minus” in Roy’s career. Parting ways with Mrs Gandhi, Roy conceded, was a grave mistake: “A miscalculation which set me back by years” Roy told HT.

Politically, a nowhere man, Roy started club hopping. He spent more nights at the bar than at home. Identified with Kolkatta’s elite than its grassroots, Roy, to quote CPM’s Dilip Banerjee, is a scholar rather than a leader.

A physics professor, Roy quit his bank job to pursue his first love: politics. A University job, he figured, would be earn him a livelihood and yet leave him ample time for politics. He started off well and was seen as a rising star. Threatened, his peer group tried to checkmate him. Roy’s shifting loyalties made it easier. As also his habit of shooting off his mouth, irrespective of the party’s position. “A brilliant man, a good Parliamentarian but a victim of party politics” said West Bengal minister Kshiti Goswami.

Roy’s induction into the Union Cabinet has happened after 30 years, this being his second stint as minister. Thanks to cabinet minister Jaipal Reddy, under whom Roy works, he has sufficient work. Otherwise one would have found him either doodling or drawing caricatures, while sipping Dolly’s tea. Roy’s wife, Dolly, is a celebrated tea taster and runs her tea boutique in South Kolkatta.