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Political survivor loses liver battle
Organ donor death blow

Vilasrao Deshmukh at son Riteish’s wedding in Mumbai in February. (Fotocorp)

Aug. 14: Vilasrao Deshmukh, Union minister for science and technology and former Maharashtra chief minister, died of multiple organ failure at a Chennai hospital this afternoon after the death of a liver donor held up plans for a transplant. He was 67.

Deshmukh is survived by his wife Vaishali and three sons — Riteish, an actor, Amit, an MLA, and Dheeraj, who manages family-run educational trusts.

The death was attributed to progression of liver cirrhosis, which led to liver and kidney failure.

Deshmukh, who had earlier been admitted to Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital, was flown to Chennai on August 6 since Global hospital was reputed for liver transplants. But his condition remained critical and the parameters did not permit a transplant.

Yesterday, his family gave the go-ahead for a full liver transplant from a brain-dead donor. But the donor died last night, forcing the family to look for another suitable brain-dead donor.

Organs can be harvested only from donors who were clinically alive with adequate blood circulation, essential for the organs to remain oxygenated till they are harvested.

Deshmukh’s condition deteriorated after noon today and efforts to revive him did not succeed. Doctors said the end came at 1.40.

The cremation will take place tomorrow evening at Babhalgaon, his native village in Latur district in Marathwada, family sources said.

The Maharashtra government has announced a three-day state mourning. But chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and governor K. Sankaranaryan would unfurl the Tricolour in Mumbai and Pune, respectively, to mark Independence Day. On Thursday and Friday, the flag will fly at half mast.

Both Houses of Parliament were adjourned for the day as a mark of respect to the departed leader, who was known for his instincts for survival and ability to handle crisis or controversy with a smile on his face.

The same smile played on his lips when he had walked in to depose before the judicial commission probing the Adarsh Housing Society scam just six weeks ago.

The housing scandal, which involved allegations of misuse of land meant for war widows, was one of several controversies Deshmukh faced. He also faced governance disasters like the July 2005 deluge that flooded Mumbai during his second and last stint as chief minister.

But allegations that he was trying to use his clout to promote Riteish cost him his seat after the 26/11 attacks when the presence of his son and filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma in the group that accompanied him to Oberoi hotel triggered a controversy.

Deshmukh took moral responsibility for the attacks and stepped down. He later moved to the Centre, where he held several portfolios including heavy industries, panchayati raj and rural development apart from science and technology.

Deshmukh was born into a family of traditional landlords in Babhalgaon. His father Dagdojirao Deshmukh was a dedicated Congressman and sarpanch of his village for 15 years.

Deshmukh went on to complete his BSc, BA and a law degree from Pune. He returned to Latur to begin his career in politics and rose through the ranks to become the district president of the Youth Congress.

In 1974, he was elected sarpanch of his village. During his two-year tenure, senior Marathwada politician Shankarrao Chavan, who would later mentor him, became Maharashtra chief minister.

In 1980, when Shivraj Patil moved to the Lok Sabha, Deshmukh became the MLA from Latur. Two years later, he made his debut as minister in Babasaheb Bhosale’s cabinet.

For the next 13 years, he was part of every Congress cabinet and handled several portfolios. In the 1995 Assembly polls, his detractors ensured a shock defeat for Deshmukh who lost to a little-known Janata Dal candidate. When he tried to enter the legislative council, he was denied a ticket.

Deshmukh then rebelled against the official Congress candidate and met Bal Thackeray to seek the Shiv Sena’s support, but was eventually defeated. For his rebellion, Deshmukh was thrown out of the party. He returned to the Congress in 1999.

Deshmukh used the five years of political wilderness to focus on building his base in Latur.

After the 1999 polls, Deshmukh not only won from Latur but also emerged ahead of his friend Sushil Kumar Shinde as chief minister of the first Congress-NCP coalition government.

The Congress leadership replaced him with Shinde, a Dalit, in 2003 ahead of the 2004 Assembly polls. Deshmukh was made a member of the Congress Working Committee.

Although the Congress returned to power for a second consecutive term under Shinde’s leadership, Deshmukh got most of the newly elected party MLAs to support him for chief minister.

He maintained a cordial relationship with Thackeray. In 2007, when NDA ally Sena declared its support to UPA presidential candidate Pratibha Patil as she was from Maharashtra, it was Deshmukh who called on Thackeray and formally sealed the deal for the party.