A village sarpanch who soared high

A village sarpanch who soared high

A village sarpanch who soared high

From an obscure village 'Sarpanch' to a powerful chief minister and Union minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh was a political craftsman adept at turning challenges into opportunities.

Beginning his political journey as 'Sarpanch' of Babhalgaon village panchayat in 1974, Vilasrao Dagadojirao Deshmukh (67), 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.

Starting out as a panchayat member, Deshmukh was 'Sarpanch' of Babhalgaon from 1974 to 1976, member of the Osmanabad Zilla Parishad and Deputy Chairman of Latur Taluka Panchayat Samiti.

As President of Osmanabad District Youth Congress from 1975 to 1978, he vigorously implemented the 5-Point programme of the organisation.

Deshmukh was elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly for the first time in 1980 and followed it up with victories in 1985 and 1990.

He held important portfolios of revenue, cooperation, agriculture, home, industries and education as a minister in the state between 1982 and 1995.

Deshmukh received a big setback when he lost the elections in 1995 to Shivajirao Patil Kavhekar but came back with a resounding triumph in the 1999 poll when he won by a margin of over 90,000 votes.

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.

Never known to sulk in a quiet corner, the hard-boiled politician from Latur won the Legislative Assembly polls in October 2004 and was sworn in as chief minister for the second time on November 1 that year.

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.

After he entered the Rajya Sabha, he was inducted as Union Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises and later as Minister for Rural Development. He was appointed as Minister of Science and Technology and Minister of Earth Sciences on July 12, 2011.

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 Deshmukh and filmmaker Ram Gopal Verma soon after the 26/11 carnage.

On February 9, 2012, the Bombay High Court ordered Subhash Ghai to return to Maharashtra government the land allotted for his film institute and indicted Deshmukh for "misusing his official position" as chief minister by showing "undue favours" to old filmmaker friend.

On March 28, 2012, a metropolitan magistrate's court directed the Marine Drive police station to investigate allegations that Deshmukh shielded a Congress MLA accused of torturing farmers to recover loans.

Deshmukh's role was also questioned by the Comptroller and Auditor General in its 2012 Report, which said that as chief minister in 2005, he allotted a 23,840 square metre plot of land in Mumbai to his family-run Manjara Charitable Trust. The market value of the land was Rs 30 crore, but it was allotted for a paltry Rs 6.56 crore.

Though not an accused, Deshmukh was also under scanner in the Adarsh housing scam for giving various clearances to the controversial housing society as chief minister.