- Congress's Milind Deora praised PM for 'Howdy, Modi!' event
- PM Narendra Modi also tweeted a "thank you" to Mr Deora
- Congress leadership deeply upset, according to sources
Congress leader Milind Deora put out a statement today "regretting" the "insinuations and unwarranted criticism in sections of the media and social media", a day after his exchange on Twitter with Prime Minister Narendra Modi fired speculation that he was heading to the BJP.
Mr Deora's praise for the "Howdy, Modi!" event in Houston won him a "thank you" tweet from PM Modi, but his party leadership is deeply upset, according to sources.
In his rejoinder, the 42-year-old refers to his father Murli Deora, a Congress veteran and former union minister who died in 2014.
"My late father worked closely with Indian Prime Ministers and US presidents - cutting across party lines - in the spirit of bipartisanship... Fortunately, politics at the time was not as confrontational and ungracious as it is today," Mr Deora wrote in his statement.
"For those who have already imagined and chartered my forward path, I wish to give you one unambiguous answer: I will serve my country to the best of my ability and I will remain bipartisan when it comes to issues of national interest and foreign policy... I am my father's son... I will not compromise on my core beliefs even though politics continues to become increasingly uncharitable and partisan."
Mr Deora stirred the pot on Monday with a tweet describing PM Modi's address at the mega event - where US President Donald Trump also spoke - as a "momentous first for India's soft power diplomacy". He had also said that his friends in the US "acknowledge India's leadership in the 21st century".
"PM Modi's Houston address was a momentous first for India's soft power diplomacy. My father Murlibhai (Former Minister Murli Deora) was one of the early architects of deeper Indo-US ties. Donald Trump's hospitality and recognition of Indian-Americans' contributions makes us proud," he tweeted.
PM Modi acknowledged Mr Deora's post with a thank you note. "Thank you Milind Deora. You are absolutely correct when you highlight my friend, late Murli Deora Ji's commitment to strong ties with USA. He would have been really glad to see the strengthening of ties between our nations. The warmth and hospitality of the US President was outstanding," the PM tweeted.
That brought a 'thank you' reply from Mr Deora.
Thank you @narendramodi ji!— Milind Deora मिलिंद देवरा (@milinddeora) September 23, 2019
Murlibhai put nation first & worked with all governments in India & the US to deepen ties between our great countries.
In my many interactions with my Democrat & Republican friends, they, too, acknowledge India's leadership in the 21st century https://t.co/AXbEb6ZDtK
And more BJP leaders tweeted patting Mr Deora on his back for his "honest" feedback.
Thank you, Kiren. I have always believed that Foreign Policy should be divorced from partisan politics https://t.co/6irBo17HFW— Milind Deora मिलिंद देवरा (@milinddeora) September 23, 2019
Mr Deora is seen to have defied his party's line when other Congress leaders have criticized PM Modi. On his words "Abki baar Trump sarkar", Congress leader Anand Sharma had pointed out that PM Modi was in the US as the Prime Minister of India and not to campaign for US President Donald Trump. P Chidambaram, who is in jail in a corruption investigation, had taken on the PM for his "everything is fine" assertion.
Sources close to Mr Deora said the tweets were "simply a recognition of the exemplary work by Milind's father, Late Murlibhai, and in no way connected to him joining the BJP, which is mere speculation".
Though there is no official reaction from the Congress or its interim chief Sonia Gandhi, sources say privately the leadership is upset given the long family ties with the Deoras.
The Gandhis flew down to Mumbai for the cremation of Murli Deora in 2014.
Top party leaders are believed to be unhappy with the way Milind Deora has handled the party in Mumbai. Deora junior replaced Sanjay Nirupam as Mumbai Congress chief when infighting threatened to rip the unit apart shortly before the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
After the Congress's drubbing in Mumbai, Mr Deora announced his resignation in July. He confirmed his resignation earlier this month. Sources say the Congress sees him as the first leader to "muddy the waters" by suggesting the names of fellow Gen-Next leaders, Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia for Congress president.
Against this backdrop, rumours of Mr Deora heading to the BJP refuse to die down even though he has officially denied it.