Mukul Roy – once Mamata Banerjee’s close aide — was the party’s first big leader to join BJP in 2017.

New Delhi:

Whether the BJP’s Mukul Roy will return to the Trinamool Congress has become the biggest question in Bengal politics after a series of indicative events that included his absence from a BJP meeting in Kolkata. Both BJP and the Trinamool Congress have largely maintained silence on the issue and Mr Roy has maintained the suspense. But on Wednesday evening, Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy dropped a very clear hint.

“There are many people who are in touch with Abhishek Banerjee and they want to come back. I feel they betrayed the party in a time of need,” Saugata Roy told NDTV. “The final decision will be taken by Mamata-di. But I feel the turncoats have to be divided into two parts — the softliners and hardliners”.

The soft liners, he went on to explain, are those who left the party but never insulted Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The hardliners insulted her publicly.

“While Suvendu Adhikari badmouthed Mamata Banerjee after shifting, Mukul Roy never openly abused the chief minister,” Mr Roy told NDTV.

The statement is a huge departure from the strongly guarded response on Mukul Roy so far.

Mr Roy – once the closet aide of Mamata Banerjee — was the party’s first big leader to jump ship in 2017. Over the following years, he was seen as instrumental in persuading a bunch of Trinamool MLAs and leaders to shift loyalty.

Now Trinamool sources say many of these leaders – as many as 35 — are hoping to get back to the winning team.

Speculation about Mukul Roy’s return started when Abhishek Banerjee, the nephew of Mamata Banerjee and a key leader of her party, visited Mr Roy at the hospital where his wife is admitted. It is believed that the very next day Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally called Mr Roy and had a conversation with him.

While BJP leaders maintained that the call was meant to wish a speedy recovery to Mr Roy’s wife, many in Trinamool Congress see it as evidence of the BJP’s nervousness about keeping its flock together.

Of late, many senior BJP leaders have been summoned to New Delhi. The list includes Suvendu Adhikari, the Leader of Opposition in Bengal.

On Tuesday, Mr Adhikari met BJP chief JP Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. It was followed by a meeting with PM Modi. After each meeting, Mr Adhikari seems to have maintained that it was related to the post-poll violence in Bengal.

Mr Roy’s absence in the BJP’s feedback and review meet has also fueled speculation of an imminent rift between him and Mr Adhikari.

It is now increasingly clear that Mr Adhikari is the one likely to back the BJP.

His electoral victory against Mamata Banerjee in the fiercely contested battle in Nandigram has brought him prominence in the party. Not only was he rewarded with the position of the Leader of Opposition, but he was also picked to attend the Prime Minister’s review meeting after the cyclone – a singular courtesy.

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