The death of Murli Deora, a Gandhi family loyalist and known for his contacts with the India Inc, marks the end of an era in the Congress.
The party, which is currently struggling to keep its hold in national politics and has been reduced to just 44 MPs, is finding itself increasingly short of capable hands like Deora, an old- school politician, who managed the party organisation and drawing room politics with equal flair.
The loss suffered by Maharashtra and its financial capital Mumbai in the 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls is in many ways is indicative of the vacuum left by leaders like Deora. The industrialist-turned-politician, who was the face of party in Mumbai for 22 years and represented Mumbai south constituency four times before passing on the baton to his son Milind, has been irreplaceable in the city’s political scene.
Not only did Deora build the organisation, but he was also its link with the corporate world, having personal relations with most industrial houses starting with the Ambanis. He also enjoyed amicable relations across party lines including the late Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray.
“Murli bhai, as he was known to us, knew the pulse of the city and its issues. He helped build the party even during the troubled times of the Sena. He climbed up the ranks from the civic body to Parliament. Apart from being a strategist, he knew the city elite well. He took their issues to the CMs, party leadership in Delhi and ensured their support,” said former chief minister and party MP Ashok Chavan.
Wooed by Modi’s premise of a stable, business-friendly government, Mumbai Inc had deserted the Congress much before the poll debacle. And, at least one of the reasons behind it was the absence of someone like Deora, who could build a bridge between the party and the corporates.
While Deora was inactive because of his health, then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was not considered business-friendly. Then state party president Manikrao Thakre and city unit chief Janardan Chandurkar, too, lacked the skill.
None of Deora’s successors in Mumbai, including rival and former MP Gurudas Kamat, Kripashankar Singh and now Chandurkar, could connect with Mumbai Inc like Deora.
“When you select someone like Chandurkar to lead the city unit during the polls, you send out a signal that Mumbai no longer counts. Deora used to be a key fund-raiser. This time, there weren’t enough funds for even half the seats we contested. The problem is that we are losing the old guard and there is no one of a similar stature or charisma,” said a party legislator.
It comes as no surprise that the state Congress is staring at a serious leadership vacuum in Maharashtra, where it had its longest run.
Legislators said leadership issues at the Centre and the state are the reasons behind the party’s debacle. Perhaps it explains why group leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and deputy group leader Vijay Wadetiwar were selected, despite their Sena antecedents. For the role of the state party president, the Congress has little option beyond MP Ashok Chavan, former ministers Narayan Rane and Balasaheb Thorat.
Deora’s demise signals the passing away of an old guard for the party, which is in transition, and the need to step up and groom its next line of leaders before it loses its relevance.