On Makar Sankranti morning, Mumbai Congress was rudely jolted awake when senior leader Milind M. Deora announced that he was quitting the Congress and later on Sunday afternoon, he officially joined Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena.
The dapper, foreign-educated Deora did what many in the Congress and even the ruling MahaYuti felt was 'unimaginable' by discarding the tricoloured 'Hand' to grab the saffron 'Bow-and-Arrow' flag, and ending the Deora family's 55-year-long links with the Congress.
"I never thought I would ever leave the Congress. But the same Congress which had ushered in economic reforms in the country under the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is now abusing businessmen and industrialists and the good work of the government," said Deora in his acceptance speech as Shinde smiled broadly at the 'big catch' of the New Year, offered him party stole, a flag and flowers.
On his part, Shinde mouthed a filmy dialogue to forewarn 139-year-old grand old Congress of the political poaching shows planned ahead: "This is just a trailer, the main picture is still remaining."
Till late Saturday night, Deora and senior Congress leaders were in the denial mode with one leader terming the speculation over the upcoming defection as 'inconceivable'.
However, all political kite-flying ended as Makar Sankranti dawned and Deora perched himself in the Shiv Sena's lap, almost like a Pied Piper, with a horde of Congress leaders from the faction-ridden Mumbai and Maharashtra units tagging along.
For the Congress -- which had maintained a smug look when former CM Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena (UBT) and senior leader Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party had also split vertically in June 2022 and July 2023, respectively -- Deora's walkout came as the proverbial 'ill-tidings' at an inopportune time.
Deora's departure -- akin to the exit of Jyotiraditya Scindi in March 2020 -- could prove damning for the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) ahead of the crucial civic, parliament and assembly elections due in 2024, when it would try to dislodge the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The immediate trigger for the exit of Deora, 47 -- a two-time MP from Mumbai South -- is said to be the uncertainty over his nomination for the same prestigious seat in 2024, after the SS-UBT unilaterally staked claim over it.
Incidentally, his father, the late Murli S. Deora was a staunch Congress veteran enjoying excellent rapport with Sonia Gandhi and former PMs Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Manmohan Singh, and top leaders across the political and corporate honchos in India and world over.
Deora, who became MP at just 27, served as a junior minister in Manmohan Singh's cabinet for almost three years, from July 2011-May 2014, was Mumbai Congress President and had good relations with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
Interestingly, Deora dumped the Congress on a critical day -- when Rahul Gandhi launched his Manipur-Maharashtra Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra (BJNY) -- and served to divert attention from the party's mass outreach initiative.
This has become a major pre-poll season exodus of sorts for the Congress as the MVA grapples with virtually a 'civil war' over the seat-sharing talks that could make or mar the fragile alliance. Maharashtra unit Congress President Nana Patole said that the BJP is rattled by Rahul Gandhi's BJNY which kicked off from Manipur and has taken away a strong associate with the threats of central investigative agencies.
Congress Legislative Party leader Balasaheb Thorat said that the timing of Deora's departure was intended to shift focus from the BJNY, and "even our Murli Deora will be pained by this".
NCP's Working President Supriya Sule said that the MahaYuti is getting in the Congress colours by taking away all talented leaders and wondered what would be the fate of their own workers.
SS-UBT Chief Spokesperson Sanjay Raut rued how today, "there's nothing like loyalty and ideology in politics, its all about power", and recalled his association with the late Murli Deora, "who was a great leader who knew what to do for the party".
(Except for the headline, this story, from a syndicated feed, has not been edited by Odishatv.in staff)