Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Uddhav Sena’s pitching for his Mumbai South seat may have hastened the process


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Congress must start immediate damage control following Milind Deora’s exit

By Sushil Kutty

Milind Deora s/o Murli Deora on Sunday joined the Shiv Sena of Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, the first casualty of seat-sharing in Maharashtra thanks to the Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray’s Shiv Sena which laid claim to the Mumbai South parliamentary constituency from which Milind Deora used to represent the Congress in Parliament before the Modi onslaught in 2014.
The UBT faction of the Shiv Sena will now have to square off with Milind Deora from the Mumbai South constituency in the 2024 general elections, too, and it wouldn’t be a piece of cake for the UBT Sena which now shares happy vibes with the Congress. The Deora exit is expected to be followed by an avalanche of Congress leaders quitting the grand old party. The Congress high command is aware and understands this but doesn’t give a damn.
Later in the day, after having sworn dissatisfaction to the parent party, Deora joined the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena in a low-key ceremony. The former Congress MP and Minister of State will be campaigning for the NDA in the forthcoming 2024 general elections. The bigger fear is about how many more Congress leaders would be following in Deora’s footsteps?
The Congress would have to mark, get set and be ready for damage control. The Maharashtra Pradesh Congress, especially the Bombay unit, will feel the direct impact of Milind Deora’s exit. The “exodus” may come if the Congress high command continues to disregard the reality that Milind Deora’s exit is the symptom of an underlying disease that is afflicting the top echelons of the party.
Milind Deora is not a mass leader, but “family Deora” has clout with corporators and MLAs. There are many Congress leaders who swear allegiance to the Deora family. Milind’s father Murli Deora used to be the mayor of Mumbai and a Union Cabinet minister, too. News hacks say 10 ex-corporators could follow Milind into the Eknath Shinde Shiv Sena and that will shake the grassroots more than Rahul Gandhi will ever come to comprehend.
The question is, does Uddhav Thackeray realize the fresh trouble seat-sharing has landed his party in? Also, Mumbai Congress leaders who have been unhappy with Varsha Gaikwad, who was the chosen president of the Mumbai unit, would also likely jump ship. Infighting in the Mumbai Congress is not new. Milind Deora himself, after becoming Mumbai Regional Congress Committee president, had a running fight with his predecessor Sanjay Nirupam.
Deora subsequently lost his Mumbai South Lok Sabha seat and had to quit his president’s post. Congress sources say Milind Deora was preparing to play a national role for the Congress when out of the blue, he announced he was leaving the Congress for good. The Congress says the “timing” pointed to direct involvement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Milind quit the very same day when Rahul Gandhi set out on his Manipur-to-Mumbai ‘Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra’. As things stand, the Congress has lost a candidate with the potential to win the Mumbai South Lok Sabha seat. This whole seat-sharing exercise of the INDI-Alliance is proving to be more disruptive than unifying.
In fact, there could be a record number of rebel INDI-Alliance candidates fighting the 2024 general elections. The Congress had lost the Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituency to the undivided Shiv Sena allied with the BJP in the last two Lok Sabha polls.
Milind Deora also takes with him his connections and clout with Mumbai’s business leaders and the considerable fund-raising potential that came with the nexus. In fact, Milind Deora was the joint treasurer of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). Fact is, Milind’s father Murli Deora was thick with “industry on behalf of the party”. Come to think of it, Milind Deora even secured an endorsement from business tycoon Mukesh Ambani in 2019. And he remains a prominent face of the Marwari-Gujarati community.
Looking at Deora’s exit that way, the Congress will carry Milind Deora’s exit to its grave. Milind Deora will be difficult to replace. Journalists of Mumbai remember him from 2014 and before. With Milind Deora’s exit, the Mumbai South parliamentary constituency, with a considerable Muslim electorate, is more or less out of the reach of the Congress. The fact that the undivided Shiv Sena won the last two elections makes it easy for one of the two Shiv Senas in 2024.
For Milind Deora, it depends on whether the BJP does or does not lay claim to the Deora family’s Mumbai South seat. The Bombay unit of the Congress is aware of Milind Deora’s loss. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get it. The Deora case is typical of how Congress leaders in Delhi are so out of sync with ground realities in the states. For instance, Congress Communications Chief Jairam Ramesh said Milind Deora tried twice to speak with him but couldn’t as Ramesh had more important stuff to do.
It was Jairam Ramesh who said Deora’s move was “decided” by Modi and that his “exit” wouldn’t hurt the Congress at all. Jairam Ramesh spoke with Milind later on January 13, but nothing came out of the talk. Two days later, Ramesh remembered only Milind’s father Murli Deora, who, he said, was a “stalwart Congressman”. (IPA Service)


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