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Ever smiling and lively minister Vilasrao Deshmukh

by Vaidehi Sachin (Aug_14_2012)

Ever smiling and lively minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, left everyone in tears. I got to interview him and was thrilled to meet this then Chief Minister of Maharashtra. He was very friendly and ground to earth. Keeping connected to everyone was the best part of his personality. Reporters used to bother him over calls he never left their calls unanswered, if at all busy he used to send text message and revert. He is is a former two-term Chief Minister of Maharashtra and hails from Lattur. He is currently a memeber of the Rajya Sabha.

Vilasrao-DeshmukhVilasrao Dagadojirao Deshmukh was born into the Maratha community of Babhalgaon, Latur district, in Maharashtra on May 26, 1945.He completed his graduation in science and arts from M.E.S Abasaheb Garware College, Pune.After studying law from ILS Law College, Pune, he entered active politics in 1974.He got married on May 29, 1975 and has three sons.From Babhalgaon Village Panchayat member to the Deputy Chairman of Latur District Panchayat Committee, Deshmukh slowly worked his way up and became the Osmanabad District President of the Indian National Congress in 1975.

Deshmukh was elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly from the Latur constituency in 1980. In 1982, Chief Minister Babasaheb Bhosale appointed Deshmukh as State Minister in Maharashtra cabinet.Till 1995, Deshmukh continued his winning streak and held key portfolios as Cabinet Minister in the Maharashtra government. The portfolios included Home, Public Works, Revenue, Education, Transport and Agriculture.He was re-elected from the Latur Constituency in the 1999 elections with a huge winning margin of 91,000 votes and elected as Chief Minister of Maharashtra by the Congress party. However, factionalism within the party saw him stepping down in January 2003 to make way for Dalit leader Sushilkumar Shinde. In 2004, Deshmukh again took oath as Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

In 2008, he took the moral responsibility for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and resigned from the post.He also courted controversy when he visted the Taj Hotel, which was attacked by the terrorists, with film maker Ram Gopal Verma and his actor-son Riteish.

In 2009, Deshmukh became member of the Rajya Sabha and was appointed Union Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises in the UPA-II government. Later he replaced Mani Shankar Iyer as minister of state for Rural Development. Deshmukh was elected as President of the Mumbai Cricket Association in 2011. An affidavit filed in the Bombay High Court on April 27, 2012 alleged that Deshmukh might be owning two flats through proxies in the Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai. The affidavit was filed by social activist Pravin Wategaonkar. The probe is still underway into the Adarsh Housing Society scam. In another Cabinet reshuffle, Deshmukh was appointed as Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences on July 12, 2011.

According to a 2012 CAG Report, Deshmukh, as Chief Minister in 2005 allotted a plot of land in Mumbai to the The Manjra Charitable Trust,allegedly run by his family, The market value of the land was worth Rs. 30 crore, but it was allotted for Rs. 6.56 crore.On 7 August 2012, Deshmukh was admitted to Global Hospitals in Chennai after he suffered ‘liver failure’. Vilasrao Deshmukh was an affable man, always with a smile. When he spoke in public, it was extempore and he had the knack of carrying  the house with him.  If the audience did not laugh at least thrice in the course of a speech, then it was someone else speaking. Speaking without a prepared text allowed him the freedom to cover the sharp, biting observations with chocolate fudge.He covered quite some distance as a politician – from the sarpanch of Bhabalgaon, a village in Latur, to the chief minister of Maharashtra to a senior minister manning  important portfolios at the Centre. It was a distance far bigger than the his farmland at Latur, which he oversaw riding horseback. He had panache. He knew how to dress well much before the 24×7 news television forced many to rush to designers. His suavity was remarkable. But he could spring nasty surprises too, such as quitting the Congress, seeking support of the Shiv Sena to re-enter active politics as a Legislative Council member.

Deshmukh himself was surprised once. After the Congress, and Nationalist Congress Party, fighting separately, routed the Shiv Sena and the BJP, he scarcely had thought that a party which bore “such ill-will” – his own words – against Mrs Sonia Gandhi would do business with her party. They became coalition partners but much before the alliance was formed he was all set to have “an easy time” – his own words – as Leader of Opposition. However, the hair-splitting bargain between the two parties suddenly catapulted him into the chief minister’s chair on the sixth floor of Mantralaya, he could not believe his good fortune. “I thought the Congress had been done for because the NCP had shown indications – all false, of course, as it turned out, just to coerce the Congress – that it would sup with the Shiv Sena.

Sushil Kumar Shinde, the chief minister hopeful then, did not grudge him this for they were closest of friends. If not on tours, either would be seen in the other’s ante-rooms in Mantralaya, shooting the breeze and having the few friends around guffaw loudly enough to pierce through the door while others waited to meet them. Both had an uncanny ability: say a lot of words but give away little, even an assurance, with a smile. They could chortle at the drop of a humourous word. When the High Command suddenly asked Shinde to take over from Deshmukh in 2003, the latter did not allow a muscle to twitch in regret for, as the world knew, they were best of friends. But when Shinde led the party in elections to sufficiently marshal a fair size to continue the Congress-NCP alliance, Deshmukh was again surprised. He, not Shinde, was offered the crown.

That, however, was his undoing. He assumed that surprises, not shocks, were his due and that politics thenceforth was easy. He slackened a bit, indeed, and when the city was inundated in July 26, 2006, crippling it, scaring the people for a few years thereafter if it even drizzled a bit, he stayed put in his official bungalow. It did not get him any laurels at all though he tried to bluster his way through the media’s questions.Bomb blasts in the city did not easily move him, till of course, Ajmal Kasab and his Pakistani compatriots swooped on the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, The Taj Hotel and the Oberoi. His first outing thereafter cost him his job: he took along with him his son, Ritiesh Deshmukh and director-producer Ram Gopal Varma to the sites, conducting the first high-level terror tour.  That is one thing he must have regretted a lot.

When Mrs Sonia Gandhi visited Mumbai, it was pointed out to her that there were more posters of the actor-son adorning billboards on lampposts – he was promoting his debut movie Tujhe Meri Kasam — than hers. That kind of pettiness unsettled Vilasrao. It hurt him more that it came from within the Congress, to which he had returned.Though this son, Riteish, moved to motion pictures, preparing for it by training at Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, New York and then doing comic roles, the other, Amit has been long known to be his political successor. He ran his father’s institutions – colleges, cooperatives, and Latur as a constituency even, and at one time, a small newspaper local to Latur but which sought and secured cheap government land in Navi Mumbai – and is now in the legislature.

Vilasrao Deshmukh’s one strength was he worked through virtually all portfolios as a minister, starting as a minister of state for Home. He had the benign support of Shankarrao Chavan, and is known as his manasputra - the heir to the former’s values. The trust of the mentor, as it turned out later, was misplaced. He is supposed to have had Marathwada under his thumb. Much like Sharad Pawar is supposed to have Maharashtra under his thumb.
Source PTI