Ravikiran DeshmukhThe grand old party currently finds itself caught in rough and turbulent winds of political uncertainty, mainly due to the uncovering of scam after scam, and its failure to come out with convincing answers. Even though the party may deny this stoutly, the grave crisis has also been exacerbated by absence of leaders capable of steering the organisation into the clear. Even the frontline leadership appears tottering over handling predicaments.

The party will not deny that in recent years it has suffered tremendous setbacks due to untimely deaths of some of its heavyweights such as Madhavrao Scindia, Rajesh Pilot, YS Rajasekhara Reddy, Dorjee Khandu and most recently Vilasrao Deshmukh. While Scindia and Pilot were promising leaders at the national level, the other three were well-versed with the level politics in their respective states and often helped Congress remain firmly in the saddle and outmanoeuvre rival parties.

Vilasrao Deshmukh
Untimely death: Vilasrao Deshmukh’s cessation has certainly unbalanced the Congress, as he was a dyed-in-the-wool leader, in the know of every nuance of the state level politics

Considering the state of affairs, Deshmukh’s cessation has certainly unbalanced the party organisation, as he was a dyed-in-the-wool leader, in the know of every nuance of the state level politics. Most importantly, he led the Congress-NCP coalition government for over eight years. His instructions and moves to stop NCP from trouncing the party in the coming general elections would have been of great value for Congress.

Except letting Deshmukh retain his ministerial berth at the Centre, Congress distanced itself from his involvement in controversies like his role in registration of a police case against Khamgaon-based money lender Gokulchand Sananda, allotment of prime land to Whistling Woods International at Goregaon Film City, Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation land allotment to a trust named after him, some SRA schemes in Mumbai etc.

But soon after his death, attempts by Congress leaders to paint a larger-than-life portrait of his have certainly raised a few eyebrows. To take advantage of the situation, Congress did everything it could to eulogise Deshmukh as a party veteran. Each and every programme that it undertook was an attempt to show that the party may not come out easily from the loss caused due to his death.

Deshmukh certainly could have proved himself an asset to the party, but not to the state. To corroborate this, ask any layman and he would fail to remember any of Deshmukh’s key decisions from his eight-year stint as CM. Similarly, Mumbai gained little during his tenure as CM, and head of urban development and housing department. No slum redevelopment project undertaken in that period was devoid of controversies.

Congress may point towards the mammoth crowd gathered for his funeral at his native place, Latur. But, it must be taken into account that Deshmukh’s contributions towards his hometown are unparalleled. Also, his premature death, or rather the well-kept secret of his ailment, was the reason that jolted citizens the most. People are still arguing over why the leader kept the matter of his deteriorating health to himself.

Now, party leaders say state Congress unit chief Manikrao Thakre, who took the lead in taking urns of ashes to various parts of the state including Mumbai, wishes to head the group that owes allegiance to Deshmukh. To bolster his efforts, he has left no stone unturned in directing the events to extol Deshmukh’s contribution for the party. Because of this, people of the state are astounded by the portrayal of the late CM, whose tenure was marked more by controversies than achievements. The fact cannot be ignored that Deshmukh was more celebrated for his personality and looks rather than his performance.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY¬†