Is the Twitter-Happy Tripura Governor Being Reined in by the PMO?

State BJP leaders have expressed their disappointment with Tathagata Roy for being proactive only on social media.

New Delhi: If there is a state governor who uses Twitter unabashedly to parade his politics – going against the non-partisan nature of the job defined by the constitution – it has to be Tripura governor Tathagata Roy.

From pining for an ‘Akhand Bharat’, talking about ‘love jihad’ and singularly castigating Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi for Partition to relentlessly targeting Muslims, sometimes Christians, ‘left-liberals’, the ‘sickular’ media or ‘Rohingya terrorists’, Roy, a member of the RSS and former BJP chief of West Bengal, can at times even make right-wing Twitter trolls look polite.

The common thread through his tweets is certainly his severe discomfort with the secular nature of the constitution, the same one he has ironically been appointed to uphold in the northeastern state. His tweets seem to give away a desperation, rather odd coming from a RSS-BJP leader of such seniority and stature, to simply get noticed – almost like a petulant school boy who pushes around fellow classmates only because he hasn’t got the attention of the teacher he so wants to impress.

For a taste of Roy’s vitriol, sample these recent tweets:

Soon after being nominated as Tripura governor in mid 2015, Roy had tweeted:

Speaking then to NDTV about tweeting communally-charged beliefs, he said, “That was a different person, a political person, I said things which my politics dictated, my beliefs dictated. I don’t regret them. But after becoming governor, I have constitutional duties.”

However, 72-year-old Roy continues to be in the news because of his political and communally-laced tweets, in spite of holding a constitutional position.

So what pressed Roy to go back on his own decision and continue to indulge in communal and political tweets, much against the dignity of his position? To engage with like-minded communal forces on social media and feel a sense of camaraderie, perhaps? Or the thrill of venting against political opponents in 140 characters? Or to be noticed by the political bosses in New Delhi? Or is it just sheer boredom, does he not have enough to do at Raj Bhavan?

According to Roy’s own tweet on September 5, he wants to “engage” with people “on merits”:

However, if the Tripura BJP unit is to be believed, Roy is following a “theory” on Twitter that they are now “well aware of”.

In fact, this “theory” has generated so much unease among the top state leadership of the BJP that some of them “requested” not only party president Amit Shah during his visit to the poll-bound state in May this year, but also to the party’s national general secretary in charge of the northeast Ram Madhav and Union home minister Rajnath Singh, to replace him.

Off-the-record conversations with quite a few Tripura BJP leaders point at the shared thought that “Tathagata babu is tweeting only to sharpen his profile of an extreme Hindutva ideologue.” As per the “theory”, this is with the purpose of returning to West Bengal politics.

“Roy may be a governor but he has not given up his political ambition. We hear that it is apparently due to some political game playing in West Bengal BJP that he got removed from state politics and ended up in Tripura as the governor. The RSS also pushed for him as he was its candidate. Now, with the BJP trying hard to enter Bengal, and the party still largely being looked at by middle-class Bengalis as a north Indian party, we certainly need a chief ministerial face who is Bengali. There is a general consensus among party leaders in Tripura that Roy is aiming for that position. The more he tweets as a staunch Hindutva ideologue, the more he creates a situation for him where the central government may have to remove him from the post of governor – and and this suits him,” one senior party leader claimed.

The general gripe against Roy is that he doesn’t act in a way that will help lift BJP’s image among the state’s electorate, at a time when the party is trying hard to dislodge the well-entrenched 19-year-old Left government. Already, some damage has been done with the party initially siding with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), which is demanding a separate tribal state that is opposed by the majority Bengali population. While the Left Front government has been clearly opposed to the demand all along, the BJP later had to officially announce that it doesn’t support it either. The BJP’s official stand has not gone down well with the IPFT, which has considerable hold in the tribal areas.

“Tathagata babu is a buddhijibi (intellectual) type, doesn’t want to get into any jhamela (confrontation) to help the party (BJP) gain ground in Tripura, something that we really need at this point in time. At times, we wonder whether he is with the Left government or is really a BJP-RSS leader,” said a top BJP leader from Tripura.

Tathagata Roy with President Ram Nath Kovind. Credit: Twitter/Tathagata Roy

Tathagata Roy with President Ram Nath Kovind. Credit: Twitter/Tathagata Roy

He mentioned one particular instance to highlight his point. “Some months ago, Congress MLA Gopal Rai questioned the Left Front government’s sports policy at a function. Roy, who was present there, said he would rather not hear anything against ‘his’ government and would prefer walking out of the event. We were all aghast at his behaviour. The media asked the state BJP spokesperson about it and he had to say ‘no comments’. So far, what we have observed is that he may tweet extreme Hindutva thoughts but nothing against the state government. Some Left leaders like Bijan Dhar and Goutam Das may say things against Roy at times but you will not find either chief minister Manik Sarkar or any of his ministers saying anything against the governor,” the BJP leader told this correspondent on the condition of anonymity.

When in May Shah was requested to replace Roy, the party national president apparently said he would “look into it”. Some media reports in Tripura also speculated about Roy’s supposed removal due to the unhappiness of the state BJP unit.

“The change did happen but in other northeastern states, unfortunately,” said a disheartened BJP leader from Agartala, indicating the recent change of governor in neighbouring Assam and new governors announced by the Narendra Modi government for Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.

However, since October 1, most state BJP leaders have been in an upbeat mood as far as Roy is concerned. The reason? “The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has finally acted with direct action.”

Local media reports said Roy left for his home city Kolkata for Durga Puja, after applying for 42 days leave to visit his daughter in the US. He was to fly from Kolkata to the US on October 1. Agartala-based Tripura Observer said in an October 3 report, “The state government provided him air ticket and made an arrangement to swear in the Governor in his place (during his absence).”

However, his visit was shot down by the PMO. An Assam Tribune report from Agartala said on October 3 that a phone call from the PMO “compelled” the governor to return to Raj Bhavan.

“The issue has raised eye-brows as a Governor generally received calls and instructions either directly from Rashtrapati Bhawan or from Union Home Ministry, but this time has been an exception as the call came from PMO,” the report said. It quoted “sources” as saying, “The PMO may have a different plan for which the Governor’s presence here is required.”

Though no local BJP leader is willing to say it officially, informally they admit it this is “a positive signal”.

“If the PMO directly puts pressure on him to act for the party beyond just tweeting, it may be of some help for us to make headway, particularly also because there is a strong rumour that Tripura assembly polls may get preponed and be held along with Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh,” a senior party member told The Wire on October 3.

Speaking to the Times of India on September 29, Roy said, “It was a private visit to the US for a month starting September 30. I have got a request from the PMO to postpone it, though no reason has been given for it. I am now returning to Agartala.”

Ask any state BJP leader who they prefer as governor if not Roy and there seems to be a general consensus around P.B. Acharya, a seasoned hand of the RSS from the northeast and presently governor of Nagaland.

“He was Tripura governor for a short while (in 2014). But within that time, he showed what an active governor is, he helped spread goodwill for the party, which is considerably new to the people of Tripura,” one state party executive said.

A party leader holding an important executive post gave two examples of Acharya’s “active nature” as governor. “Soon after taking over as Tripura governor, he went to taste Bengali food at a popular restaurant in Agartala. There, he was told that he would get only bottled water and would have to pay for it. A day later, Acharyaji wrote a letter to the state government asking it to direct all restaurants in the capital city to provide clean, filtered water to customers as water is a basic right of people; it is also part of Indian culture to provide water for free. Many people in Agartala really appreciated that activism of the governor.”

“Once, he landed up in a primary school in the tribal areas of Khowai without informing the local authorities and tasted the food prepared for the children’s mid-day meal. It created a positive, pro-people image not just of the governor but for the BJP too, something that we need now prior to the elections.”

Roy may have been a swayamsevak since 1986, but he seems to have failed to match Acharya, at least in the eyes of Tripura BJP leaders. A trained engineer employed with the railways, Roy joined the BJP in 1990. Between 2002 and 2006, he officiated as the president of BJP’s West Bengal unit. He, however, has no track record of winning elections yet, even though he contested the 2009 Lok Sabha elections from the North Kolkata seat as a BJP candidate and then in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from the South Kolkata seat.

Roy is not the only one from his family to join politics. His younger brother and senior Congress-turned-TMC leader Saugata Roy served as the Union minister of state for urban development in the Manmohan Singh government. In July, Saugata was summoned by the CBI in connection with the Narada sting case after he was reportedly seen in the tapes “accepting money from Narada News CEO Mathew Samuel in exchange of favours”.

Roy has recently tweeted demanding action against those accused in the Sarada and Rose Valley chit fund fraud cases, but has so far stayed clear of the Narada tapes.