Vilasrao Deshmukh: matchless potential, mixed legacy
Sarpanch to chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh knew Maharashtra best; debate will be over what he achieved and what he could have. Smruti Koppikar writes.mumbai Updated: Aug 14, 2012 23:58 IST
Vilasrao Deshmukh, in the late 1980s, was in the thick of his long-running covert confrontation with the then undisputed Congress leader in Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar.
One of Pawar's friends asked him during a breakfast meeting who, other than himself, did he consider capable as a future chief minister.
"Vilas Dagdoji Deshmukh," Pawar told his friend, unhesitatingly, "because this man knows the state, knows the politics of the state and knows how to manage people."
To that, in the last decade and a half, Pawar may have added: how to understand the administrative machinery and make it work.
Deshmukh served the second-longest term as Maharashtra CM, approximately eight years. He helmed the state during crucial years, when the old economy was dismantled, following the 1991 liberalisation policies.
Urban historians may credit him for the pace of transformation that he presided over but may not commend him for the vision or the character of that transformation.
For, Deshmukh's legacy is - in sum - a mixed legacy.
Deshmukh, even his adversaries will agree, knew how to get things done; the debate will be about what he achieved and what he could have.
"He was a competent CM but he could have done more," said Dr Aroon Tikekar, former editor and a personal friend.
His early political life, as a sarpanch and then an MLA, is a testimony to his abilities and drive.
Maharashtra, in the Deshmukh years, became a state where agriculture and allied activities were not given due importance; his tenure saw the largest-ever number of farmers' suicides and an unprecedented agrarian crisis.
The state saw rapid - often unplanned and ad hoc - urbanisation.
His friends will remember him for his ability to form deep friendships across the political divide, his easy camaraderie and, as friend and Shiv Sena MP Bharat Kumar Raut said "his willingness to go the extra mile for his friends".