The return of the natives?

Believe it or not, senior Congress leader Vilasrao Deshmukh and BJP honcho Gopinath Munde share a close and unique bond. Their friendship is well-known in political circles, and the two have never tried to conceal it. The familiarity dates back to their student days, when the two studied law together at ILS Law College in Pune.

Even after graduating into adulthood, the two shared an excellent rapport as well as common borders for their respective Assembly constituencies -- Renapur and Latur, which they represented before 2009. The two have made no bones about the fact that they have helped each other out during elections. No wonder, whisper insiders, there is such little BJP presence in Latur, which is Deshmukh's home turf. Neither is there much Congress presence to speak of in Parli, Munde's hometown. 

Even now, after having donned the roles of Union Science & Technology Minister and Deputy leader in Lok Sabha respectively, both Deshmukh and Munde never miss an opportunity to make proclamations about their friendship, heedless of the repercussions this may cause. 

When they give addresses at public appearances, the audience is assured of a treat. Sharing a dais for the inauguration of a hospital recently, both leaders testified to the strength of their time-tested bond. The gathering in Latur in Diwali was no exception. In his address, Munde stunned the audience when he announced that he and Deshmukh were ready to return to state politics.

"We don't waste time detecting each other's weaknesses or the strengths," said the BJP leader, adding that the two never play a game of political one-upmanship, or try to weaken the other. "Way back, we made it to the State Assembly, and then moved into the Parliament as well. We will now make a comeback."

Pussyfooting around his friend's bold assertions, Deshmukh gave a cautious reply, joking that Munde was a great orator, who may just have gotten a bit carried away. Unflinching, Munde claimed that he had given his word to the people of Latur that Deshmukh would return to state politics.

Let's rewind a bit to examine these statements in context of the national political scenario. Munde's desperation to reprise his role in state politics may have something to do with the fact that his sway at the Centre has been suffering a gradual diminution, ever since Nitin Gadkari entered the Delhi arena as BJP chief. When Munde made his foray in the Lok Sabha back in 2009, he was nominated as the Chairman of the prestigious Public Accounts Committee, and also conferred the deputy leadership of the BJP in Lok Sabha. Soon after, however, he was divested of the responsibility.

Munde's sway in state politics has also waned gradually: for instance, his nominee for the post of the Pune BJP chief was ignored. The most red-faced moment must have been when he had to publicly admit that he had not been invited to campaign for the party candidate during the Khadakwasla Assembly bye-poll recently. Now, with Gadkari being slowly projected as the party's next prime ministerial candidate, it appears that Munde erstwhile prominence will suffer further blows.

Deshmukh on the other hand, has twice suffered the consequences of decisions made by his party's high command - first, when he was put in charge of the Department of Heavy Industries in the UPA government, a rather unimportant portfolio.

His subsequent joy at being entrusted the Union Rural Development & Panchayati Raj Ministry was short-lived, as he was soon transferred to the Department of science and Technology, which is mostly controlled by the Prime Minister's office. In this department, his responsibilities are meagre, as most of the significant decisions are made by the scientists on its rolls.

After an eight-year-long stint as CM, Deshmukh is indeed in the doldrums. But he will not go down without a fight. With NCP chief Sharad Pawar staunchly standing by him, there are rumours floating around that he may even return as state CM. Recently, Deshmukh was seen camping at Latur for over a week, and is all set to make a return soon. This is surprising, since he rarely makes public appearances there. So, will he, wont he? Only time will tell.

The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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