In a major jolt to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal, a senior leader of the saffron outfit quit on Friday only to return to the eastern state's ruling Trinamool Congress that he co-founded with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in 1998.
Mukul Roy, the BJP's first import from Mamata's Trinamool Congress in Bengal, was re-inducted into the regional party, along with son Shubhranshu, in the presence of Mamata at a ceremony in state capital Kolkata. "Mukul has returned home. He was never a traitor like the others. More will come back," Mamata said, welcoming back her former party colleague.
Addressing the media at the Trinamool Congress headquarters, 67-year-old Mukul said, "I feel great at seeing my old colleagues, after leaving the BJP. I can't be in the BJP. Mamata is the only leader of Bengal and India."
In fact, speculation was rife about Mukul's possible return to the Trinamool Congress after Mamata's nephew and the party's second-in-command Abhishek Banerjee last week visited the politician at the hospital where his wife was undergoing treatment. The very next day, Prime Minister Modi called Mukul up and enquired about his wife's health.
Mukul briefly served as India's Railway Minister in 2012, when Mamata's Trinamool Congress was part of then Congress-led ruling United Progressive Alliance government, which was decimated by Modi's BJP two years later. He left the Trinamool Congress and joined the BJP in 2017.
Mukul's departure from the BJP is a huge setback for the saffron outfit after its humiliating defeat in April-May's assembly polls in West Bengal. Mamata single handedly pulled off an astounding victory in the election, defying anti-incumbency and staving off a huge challenge from the BJP.
Though her party swept back to power with a resounding majority of 213 seats in the 292-member assembly, the 66-year-old lost her own seat in Nandigram to her former protege-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari by a thin margin of around 2,000 votes. "This win has saved Bengal, it has saved our culture and tradition," she said on the counting day.
The BJP though has made major gains in Bengal, winning some 77 seats. In 2016, the party had just three legislators in the state. However, the Left Front has failed to grab a single seat this time. The Left Front ruled Bengal for 34 years -- from 1977 to 2011.
Bengal witnessed the most high-profile contest in India's recently held state elections. While Mamata harped on being Bengal’s daughter, the BJP asked people to vote for "change and socio-economic development" after 50 years of Communist and Trinamool Congress rule. Top BJP leaders, including PM Modi, spearheaded the election campaign in Bengal.