Mumbai: Former petroleum minister Murli Deora died on Monday early morning. He was battling cancer.

Deora, who was popularly known as Murlibhai, started his political career as a councillor of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) in 1968 and was the mayor of Mumbai in the late 1970s. He was also member of legislative council in Maharashtra between 1982 and 1985.

Deora, who was considered to be close confidant of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, was first elected to Lok Sabha from the Mumbai South constituency in 1984, in the backdrop of former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

He was re-elected to the Lok Sabha from the same constituency in 1989, 1991 and in 1998.

In 1999, he was defeated by his arch rival and the veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jayawantiben Mehta. In 2002, he was elected to Rajya Sabha, where he had completed two terms and was currently serving a third term.

His son Milind Deora represented the same constituency in 2004 and 2009 and was minister of state for telecommunication and information technology between 2012 and 2014 in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

Deora exuded complete control over the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee (MRCC) and was its longest serving president for 22 years.

Though he never officially held the position of Congress treasurer, he was considered to be the biggest fundraiser for the Congress party. Some of the biggest names of the corporate world like Adi Godrej, HDFC Ltd’s Deepak Parekh, former Times Group chairman Ashok Jain used to be his partners in the card game of Bridge.

He was also a close friend of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) founder Dhirubhai Ambani. It is said during Ambani’s battle with Bombay Dyeing Ltd chairman Nusli Wadia in the mid-1980s, he firmly stood behind Ambani. Though RIL was a big corporate house even in the mid-1980s, it wasn’t the behemoth that it is today, and Deora’s help at this juncture proved crucial for RIL’s future growth.

Though a staunch Congressman, the soft-spoken Deora maintained a close rapport with leaders of other parties.

He counted former BJP high-profile general secretary Pramod Mahajan and the Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray as his close friends. In fact, Deora became Mumbai’s mayor in 1977 with the help of the Shiv Sena.

Mahajan, who became a Rajya Sabha member in the mid-1980s, often credited Deora with helping him understand how Delhi’ power elite worked.

Though he enjoyed a close relationship with the Gandhi family, Deora never sought any ministerial position for himself and was inducted in the cabinet rather late in his political career at the age of 70 in 2006 as a petroleum minister.

Though both Ambani siblings called him uncle, Anil Ambani, chairman of Reliance Group, accused him of playing a partisan role and siding with his elder brother and RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani in their dispute over gas from the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin.

Deora also played a key role in the campaign against smoking in public places, which finally ended with the Supreme Court declaring smoking in public places illegal in 2008.

He also used to organize health checkup camps, computer coaching classes for under-privileged students in his constituency. Condoling his death, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a series of tweets said, “A dedicated leader, Shri Murli Deora’s warm nature made him a popular across party lines. News of his demise is saddening."

Calling Deora a remarkable individual, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said, “He was symbol of Congress in Mumbai. He was dedicated political worker who upheld the party in thick and thin."

Recalling his more than three decades of association with Deora, HDFC Bank’s Parekh said, “It was our children who introduced us to each other as my son and Milind are friends since their nursery-school days. However our association grew over the years as we used to play card game of Bridge every Saturday and Sunday. Last month, I celebrated my 70th birthday and despite not being well, Murli insisted on taking me out for dinner, and it was my last social outing with him." He was a very warm and kind-hearted person, and never turned away any person who came seeking his help and always kept his word, added Parekh.

Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj Auto Ltd, said, “He (Deora) was pro-business person in the good sense of the term. His heart was in right place and always wanted to help poor but did not suffer from foolish socialist ideas about poverty eradication."

Deora never spoke badly about any politician, and that’s why he had friends across party lines and in corporate India as well, Bajaj added.

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