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Milind Deora Interview | 'How Do Netas Switch to Parties They Oppose All Along?'

On 'Badi Badi Baatein', Shiv Sena MP Milind Deora explains why it's more frequent for leaders to hop parties now.

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Video Editor: Kriti Saxena

"You know how you tell a smoker to stop smoking because it’s bad for you and they say I don’t care, or they say that they know it’s bad for them but then they light another cigarette. The Congress party has that kind of a problem," said Rajya Sabha MP Milind Deora.

When his father Murli Deora, a staunch 'Congressi', became the Mayor of Mumbai in 1977, the Shiv Sena, then heralded by Bal Thackeray had backed him. Milind's recent move to the Shiv Sena led by Eknath Shinde, though, came as a surprise for many.

For five decades, the Deoras had been closesly associated with the Gandhis. While Murli Deora went on to become an MP in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and a Union Minister in Dr Manmohan Singh's cabinet, Milind was the Lok Sabha MP twice, a Misister of State, and then the president of Mumbai Congress.

Milind's exit from the party in January this year was anticipated for a while in Mumbai's political circles. The move to the Shiv Sena led by Eknath Shinde, however, came as a surprise for many.

The shift of leaders like Milind Deora, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and many more to ideologically opposite parties has been seen as a 'trend' in India's politics in the recent years. That begs the question — Has it become easier for politicians now to switch to ideologically opposite parties?

"When anyone leaves a party, it’s not like changing a shirt. It’s a big decision and it takes a lot of strength and courage to change parties. In my case, it took a long time and it was a very emotional and difficult decision," Deora said.

On 'Badi Badi Baatein', Milind Deora talks about why politicians have started leaving parties more frequently, his decision to leave the Congress, what ails the grand old party, and the issues before Mumbai for the upcoming elections.
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What does ‘Badi Badi Baatein’ mean to you politically today?

The biggest issue during elections in any democratic country is what the hopes, sufferings and aspirations of the common man are. I think that is what the core issue of any politician and political party should be.

You have spent over two decades with the Congress, now four months with the Shiv Sena, how are you settling in?

I’ve settled in very well, better than I expected and anticipated. A while back, the party nominated me to the Rajya Sabha, to the Upper House of the Parliament, and I feel very proud. It’s good to be back in the Parliament. My politics would be the same, focused, development-oriented and constructive. Essentially, I don’t just want to represent Mumbai and Maharashtra but raise issues that concern the nation. That’s the politics I’ve always believed in and that is the freedom Eknath Shinde ji has given me.

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You said that your politics would remain the same. The major reason for Maha Vikas Aghadi’s split was that Mr Shinde did not want to align with the Congress, but you went from the Congress to Mr Shinde’s Shiv Sena. Do you really believe that, in terms of ideology, your politics will be able to remain the same?

My ideology has always been constructive and development-oriented, as I had mentioned, nothing will change in that area. I don’t believe in personal attacks. This destruction in Maharashtra’s politics since 2019 has happened for a lot of reasons. In 2019, the citizens wanted the Congress and the NCP to be in the Opposition, they wanted BJP and Shiv Sena to run the government once more. Disruption took place for the sake of power and the chair. I was in the Congress when this alliance was being formed in 2019, I was against the formation of this alliance. I spoke out clearly in my party and to the leaders in my party. I also knew what my leaders felt about the alliance at that time, and I also know what they feel about the alliance even now. At some level, they’re against this alliance, they don’t trust certain alliance partners in the state. But, as they say, it is an obligation.

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This is a question that generally comes from voters — If there are people going from one party to another which have a completely opposite ideology, how do the voters trust these people who switch parties?

I would say that it depends from one person to another and also from one party to another party. Even though I’m not a BJP member or spokesperson, but to be fair to Mr Shinde or the BJP, they haven't diverted from their core ideology. Mr Shinde is what Balasaheb wanted Shiv Sena to represent. Modi ji is what the BJP, when it was formed in 1980, wanted the BJP to become. Other parties have deviated from their ideology. They’re taking sudden U-turns, and that is what makes the citizens frustrated because their ideologies remain the same. I entered politics in 2004, and when I read about politics it was very clear to me what my stand on the Ram Mandir and Babri masjid dispute was — whatever the Supreme Court decides, I will accept. It was also the Congress' stand at the time when I entered politics. Today, what is the Congress stand on that issue? Today, who has taken a complete U-turn from UCC, CAA and Article 370? And why is Congress taking these U-turns?

But when someone switches parties, till a day before switching parties, they are vehemently opposing policies of the parties that they are going to shift to.

Ultimately, I don’t think when anyone leaves a party...it’s not like changing a shirt. It’s a big decision and it takes a lot of strength and courage to change parties. In my case, it took a long time and it was a very emotional and difficult decision. It is still a very emotional decision. I stayed loyal for 10 years without having any power and without being in the Parliament. The best 10 years of my life, age 37-47, I gave to the party without being in the Parliament, I gave back to the party. But if one is not being valued in an organisation… 

Did you feel undervalued?

Yes, I certainly felt undervalued and a person who feels undervalued must move on and go to a place where they are valued and where they can contribute. If you be who you are and you get the freedom to perform and continue doing the work you believe in, then that is a good thing.

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But don’t the issues on which you were opposing the political party remain the same?

If you look at my past record, even on Twitter, when I was in the Congress many times, I supported the issues of the Government of India led by PM Modi. I didn’t oppose Article 370, I didn't think it was bad and I didn’t think Make in India was bad or that Digital India was bad. I’ve always done politics constructively and I am not someone who is a blind spokesperson, who will say what the party has to say. There’s a reason why I didn’t become a spokesperson.

Speaking of the Congress — you had once said that the Congress either needs to reform or perish. It’s been 10 years since the Congress has been out of power and there’s a lot of infighting going on in the Maharashtra Congress. Where do you think the Congress is today? Is it reforming or perishing?

I think I’ve moved on from the Congress for several reasons. One of the reasons was that I stayed loyal and I tried, for 10 years without any power, to reform the party from within and bring in positive suggestions to improve the party from within. Many times my suggestions were seen as revolt. For example, you tell a smoker to stop smoking because it’s bad for you and they say I don’t care, or they say that they know it’s bad for them but then they light another cigarette. Congress has that kind of a problem. The amount of space that the Congress has given away to parties...! When I came to the Congress in 2004 and fought my first election, the Aam Aadmi party did not exist but today the Aam Aadmi Party is the Congress of Delhi and in some ways, of Punjab. The BRS in Telangana did not exist and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress was a small party, and the list goes on. Congress has been unable to hold on to its cadre, its voters.

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In 2022, the Shiv Sena split. In 2023, the NCP split. Many saw the Maharashtra Congress as this steadfast party and then you exited, then Mr Ashok Chavan exited, Mr Sanjay Nirupam exited. A series of exits started after you left the party, but none of these leaders have taken any names. But I want to ask you, is there any one person that all the disgruntled leaders want to blame?

I don’t want to blame any individual but the Congress as a whole, unfortunately, is in a self-destructive mode. And I say unfortunately because if you can’t come to power, you must at least give the country a constructive opposition and hold the government accountable. But when the government is doing something, criticise them constructively. You can dislike a party or dislike individuals but you must have the ability that during elections, you should see what is good for the country and raise issues that are relevant to the country and are of national interest. That's something that, unfortunately, I don't see in the opposition today.

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Do you think the Maha Vikas Aghadi has the momentum on the ground? Because the sentiment that is going around across the state and many parts we’ve been to is the fact that you threw the elders of the house and now you’ve taken over their home.

I believe these are things that will be tested soon in India, they haven’t been tested yet. When they are finally tested, the voters will understand who is to be blamed for the disruption that has happened in NCP and Shiv Sena. They will want someone who can give them opportunities and someone who has a vision to take India forward, not somebody or a group of people who have come together, who actually hate each other by the way, who until three months ago were abusing each other. What was Congress and Aam Aadmi Party’s politics before? Hatred. What is Congress and Uddhav Thackarey’s love lost for each other? What does Congress feel about Sharad Pawar ji? I know. I know it very well.

But taking from your own analogy, wouldn’t the same apply to the NCP and Mr Ajit Pawar or Mr Eknath Shinde who were vehemently opposing the BJP to some point.

I don’t think Eknath Shinde ji was opposing the BJP, I think he was very clear just like I was clear when I was in the Congress that the Congress-Shiv Sena alliance of 2019 was an unnatural, illogical political alliance. To be fair to him, he has stuck to what he is and to what Balasaheb’s ideology was. 

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But Mr Ajit Pawar hasn’t...

I’m not his spokesperson but I can speak on behalf of Mr Shinde, he has stuck to his core ideology.

Your family was connected to the Congress for 55 years. You have seen politics growing up. Do you think changing ideologies or going to parties of a different ideology has become easier in today’s politics than what it was during your father’s time? 

I think what has happened is that there’s a very disturbing trend in Indian politics which has in some ways made it easier or more frequent. If you ask me, as someone who follows US politics very closely, we have a far better and more robust democratic system in the sense that we have more parties. But one area which is very disturbing is that in 90-95% of parties in India, the top position is reserved for a family. To me it’s not something we see in other parts of the world. Yes, political dynasties exist like Kennedy and Bush. What that eventually does is that it doesn’t allow merit to grow. More and more parties have become undemocratic where you can predict who the leader will be in 10 years or 15 years. Therefore, people who are talented are forced to make difficult decisions. Eknath Shinde, who started out driving an auto rickshaw, can become a Chief Minister, it is not reserved for one person or family, even I can become CM. This is essential in our political system, failing which one will see many desertions. There is a glass ceiling which a person cannot breach. 

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What are the biggest issues for Mumbai ahead of the Lok Sabha elections? This capital city has seen a lot in the past five years.

There are many different things for Mumbai. One being that there is a significant infrastructure improvement in Mumbai — that is something which is undeniable. Projects like the Trans Harbour Sea Link, now the Atal Setu, to the coastal road to the metro. I think affordable housing for the people of Mumbai is an issue very close to my heart. There are many people who are affected by housing problems, whether it is Mumbai Port Trust tenants or LIC tenants or the tenants of MHADA. A third issue, which I believe is extremely critical is how can we reimagine the economy of Mumbai. Once upon a time, Mumbai was the only financial centre of India. Today, whether we like it or not, but we’ve lost business to many cities and states. Southern cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore have taken a lot of share of IT. One thing where both the State and the Central Government have been extremely successful, is in the last 10 years there has not been even one terror attack in Mumbai. People were afraid to go to movie theatres or travel by public transport, but thanks to the policies of the state and the centre, Mumbai is much safer today. We need to continue in that direction.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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