Maratha strongman wanted to make Mumbai a Shanghai

Vilasrao found a godfather in S B Chavan, who groomed him

Courting controversies with a disarming smile was his hobby and his impeccable sartorial Indic style made him stand out in a crowd.

The demise of Marathwada strongman and senior Congress leader from Maharashtra, Vilasrao Dagdojirao Deshmukh, on Tuesday marks the passing away of a politician who will leave a massive dent in the party which had always relied on his acumen and resourcefulness.

Born on May 26, 1945, in Babhalgaon in the Latur district of Maharashtra, Deshmukh, popularly called Vilasrao, entered local politics during his graduation period. Soon after obtaining degrees in science, arts and law, Vilasrao actively involved in drought relief work and the Congress Youth wing in Latur. He made a foray into full-time politics by getting elected to the Osmanabad Zilla Parishad.

Vilasrao found a godfather in the then staunch Indira Gandhi loyalist, the late S B Chavan, who groomed him and soon he was pole vaulted into the glittering corridors of state politics in 1980s.

He also found himself in the good books of the late Rajiv Gandhi, who wanted young “Turks” at state level politics. The always nattily dressed, suave Vilasrao fitted the bill to the letter ‘T’. His rise then was phenomenal with the help of another rising star Madhavrao Scindia. From 1980 to 1995 when, for the first time he lost elections, Vilasrao served as a minister in several governments before taking over as Maharashtra Chief Minister in 1999. Vilasrao, during his tenure as a minister, learnt the intricacies of bureaucracy. The vast range of portfolios helped him in cultivating wide network of contacts which made him the most powerful party fundraiser. 

Two strongmen

It is precisely for this reason that another Maratha strongman, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar, feared Vilasrao’ political strategies and envied his hold on Maratha sugar cane lobby in Marathwada.

In 1995, he left the Congress seeking support from Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray; but he soon found himself rudderless and staged a comeback in 1999 surprising his detractors; the jolt was further amplified when the Congress high command asked him to take over once again as chief minister of Maharashtra. Of course, his close friend Sushil Kumar Shinde helped him regain his prominence.

Controversies only helped him climb a step higher in the power echelons. In Adarsh housing scam, he was accused that he cleared the controversial land falling in CRZ as he wanted to own a couple of flats in the building. But he was later cleared of the charges.
Earlier, Vilasrao, a film buff was accused of granting a plot to film maker Subhash Ghai in Film City. And in 2008, he had to step down for the second time as Maharashtra CM.

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