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He understood democracy, gave one room to differ

mumbai Updated: Aug 15, 2012 00:01 IST

We came from varied backgrounds. He was the son of a relatively well-off farmer, while my family struggled to get me educated. The only thing in common between us was that we hailed from the same region. We met at the ILS Law College in Pune where we were students, and our friendship began.

By 1974, Vilasrao had made a mark on the political scene by becoming the sarpanch of his village, Babhalgaon. At that time, I was still a worker for the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

I visited him at Latur one day, where he was practising as a lawyer. He insisted that I accompany him to his village, so I rode pillion on his beloved bike.

During that ride Vilasrao asked me to consider getting involved in electoral politics. I was being pressured by people in my party and I paid heed to his advice. We made an entry into Maharashtra Assembly together in 1980.

We were to repeat the feat 29 years later, when we both got elected to Parliament together.

His work in the Assembly reflected his personality. He used his charm and courage to get work done. He was also one of the few people who did not allow friendships to get affected by politics.

I come from a party that is an ideological opponent of his party, but he never let that affect our relationship. Both of us have been involved in several verbal duels during our political battle.

Many people have talked about our friendship, but not many know of the problems Vilasrao has faced because we were friends.

He was one person who understood the true essence of democracy - that people could live together irrespective of their ideological differences.

He realised that politicians who hold divergent opinions are not enemies. He monitored my political journey and was happy with my progress.

One trait of Vilasrao's that stood out was his sense of humour. He had the ability to defuse a lot of tricky situations with his ready wit. I will miss his smiling face.

He and his family rallied around me during my accident. My heart goes out for his sons. My sorrow is twofold - for the country has lost an able politician and I have lost a friend of over four decades.

As told to Zeeshan Shaikh