In the early 1960s, a young and handsome student in Pune
University harboured a secret ambition: to become a star in
Bollywood. Over the years, the Bollywood dreams of Vilasrao
Dagadoji Deshmukh crumbled although he resembled an upcoming star
of those times, Shatrughan Sinha, and whose dialogue delivery he
imitated to regale friends.
Instead, Deshmukh became a rising star in politics, starting with
his native Latur district. The double graduate-cum-lawyer became
one of the youngest sarpanches at age 29 in 1974.
He had to battle huge odds but there was no looking back after
that. A Congress loyalist, he went on to become Maharashtra chief
minister twice and union minister too.
"I have achieved all this despite powerful political opponents,"
Deshmukh once told this writer, naming Sharad Pawar, soon after he
was sworn-in the second time as the Maharashtra chief minister in
The kind of hate-hate relationship Deshmukh-Pawar had all these
years -- both ambitious Marathas, hailing from the backward
Marathwada and the prosperous western Maharashtra respectively -
is hardly a secret.
Winning all elections from 1980, barring in the 1995 assembly
polls owing to suspected sabotage by party bigwigs, Deshmukh
started his ministerial stint from 1982 and held all important
Despite having been written off after his defeat in 1995, when the
Shiv Sena-BJP alliance swept to power, Deshmukh made a sensational
comeback in 1999 winning with the highest margin in the state.
When Sharad Pawar quit the Congress to form the Nationalist
Congress Party, the party was desperate for a strong leader as the
next chief minister. The mantle fell on Deshmukh who ruled
Maharashtra from 1999 to 2003.
Even after he was moved to national politics as Congress general
secretary, Deshmukh's heart beat only for his home state. The
Latur-born wanted to move back to Mumbai.
The opportunity came in 2004 when he bounced back as chief
minister. He held the reins till he resigned following the 2008
Mumbai terror attack by Pakistani terrorists.
It was as culture minister that Deshmukh acquired a love for the
fine arts, music, dance, movies and drama, which remained his
passion till the end.
He was once asked why so many Bollywood personalities crowded his
office and residence. Deshmukh replied: "Most of them want land
somewhere or the other. If their case is genuine, the government
A few years later, his name was dragged into a land allotment row
involving filmmaker Subhash Ghai.
During his tenure as chief minister, among the longest by a
Congress leader, Deshmukh always ensured a couple of important
cultural items on his official menu.
Though he was never identified as a member of any group within the
Congress, he was great friends with the late Madhavrao Scindia,
whom he considered as among his mentors.
When Scindia was killed in a plane crash, Deshmukh was at the
Hyderabad airport lounge.
As he got the news, he broke down.
During the flight back home in a small aircraft, he recounted
several treasured encounters he had with Scindia.
Over the years, Deshmukh had his share of political controversies,
land scams and accusations of misusing his position. In 2009, as
the Congress returned to power again nationally, he became a part
of the Manmohan Singh government.
According to his close friends, it was last year that his illness
and its implications were detected. He started taking precautions,
including lighter assignments.
A matter of pride for him was his son Riteish, who fulfilled his
dream of becoming a Bollywood star and later married Genelia
D'Souza, an upcoming actress.
His friends hail Deshmukh for his contribution in promoting arts
and culture, the co-operative movement, education and
strengthening the administration especially in rural areas.
He would always say that he wanted to make Maharashtra the numero
uno state in India, and dreamt of making Mumbai a Shanghai.
The 67-year-old died in a Chennai hospital Tuesday... that dream