May 26 marks the birth anniversary of late Congress leader and former chief minister of Maharashtra Vilasrao Deshmukh.
Beginning his political journey as 'Sarpanch' of Babhalgaon village panchayat in 1974, Vilasrao Dagadojirao Deshmukh negotiated the choppy political waters of Maharashtra with elan, becoming chief minister twice before moving over to Delhi as a member of the Union cabinet.
Hailing from the politically dominant Maratha community, Deshmukh, a graduate from the ILS Law College, Pune, was a grassroots Congress worker, who proved his mettle at all stages in his impressive political career.
Deshmukh was elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly for the first time in 1980 and followed it up with victories in 1985 and 1990.
His political sagacity landed him the coveted chief minister's chair for the first time in October, 1999. He continued in the post from October 18, 1999 to January 17, 2003, when he had to make way for Sushilkumar Shinde, amid growing factionalism in the state Congress.
Amid mounting public outrage over the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008, Deshmukh resigned owning moral responsibility and shifted to Delhi taking the Rajya Sabha route.
Like most politicians, controversies did not spare him too. Deshmukh provoked indignation and was accused of "terror tourism" when he visited the fire-ravaged Taj hotel with actor son Riteish and filmmaker Ram Gopal Verma soon after the 26/11 carnage.
Here are few interesting things you should know about the leader:
Vilasrao Deshmukh was a dyed-in-the-wool politician and had a sharp memory. He used to recall remarks or comments made over the files or papers he dealt with. It was an uncanny knack and also a point of discussion in the administrative circles. Besides, he rarely needed briefings on important or crucial issues. More so, he wouldn’t need to refer to notes or papers as like other ministers- while replying to questions, debates at the state legislature.
He was a tough master when it came to political manoeuvring. He rarely succumbed to pressure tactics by his contemporaries. When he was the Chief Minister, no minister or leader would get his signature on an important file or paper at ease. He never allowed ministers to barge into his chamber with files for his on-the-spot approvals.
Apart from politics he was a film buff. He was attracted to the film world since his college days in Pune. It grew up in such a way that the ILS Law College - his alma mater, was just a stone’s throw away from the Film Institute of India. He had many friends from the institute who later settled in Bollywood.
Yash Chopra directed Lamhe was one of his favourite movies. He saw this movie more than once. He attended maximum possible film events when he was a member of the state cabinet. During one of such events sometime in 1993-94, he was asked to sing a song by his friends from Bollywood. He sang his favourite number “Yeh mera prem patra padhkar ke tum naraz na hona...” from the movie Sangam.
He was very passionate about the gauge conversion project of narrow-gauge railway route from Latur to Miraj via Kurduwadi into broad-gauge. This project was close to his heart since his college days since in those days’ passengers from his hometown Latur used to catch connecting trains to Pune at Kurduwadi junction. He took major initiatives for the early completion of the project. He chaired several review meetings, made available mineral pitch required to lay the route through the state employment guarantee scheme (EGS). He appointed collectors of Latur, Osmanabad, Solapur and Sangli to make available the mineral pitch, land acquisition etc. His passion was acknowledged by the then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav when he asked Deshmukh to decide on the composition of CSTM-Latur Express with the number of bogies from the general one to first class, time schedule etc.
Pune had a very special place in his heart not just for the academic reasons, but while studying he had joined Abasaheb Garware college as the lab instructor. After completing law, he started practicing as a lawyer in Pune district court. After some time, his friends from Pune insisted that he should return back to Latur to pursue a political career and the rest is history. Even during his days as a cabinet member, he used to visit Pune quite often and made a point to spare some time with his friends from his college days.
Among the traits of his personality, remarkable one is that after his unexpected defeat in 1995 state assembly elections from Latur constituency, he never visited Mantralaya- the state headquarters, until he returned with a thumping victory in 1999 and took over as the Chief Minister of the state.
Another important feature was that after his defeat in 1995, the letterhead he got printed for him did not have a mention as the former MLA or former minister unlike his peers. He used to say people knew me by my name and not by the positions he held.
(With inputs from PTI)