Mourners take part in Deshmukh’s funeral in Latur on Wednesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Aug. 16: Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s untimely demise has created in Maharashtra a political void the Congress will not be able to fill but the bigger worry for the party is that its frontline of mass leaders is withering away for reasons beyond its control.
Deshmukh’s absence may not trigger a crisis as grave as that caused by the death of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in a chopper crash in Andhra Pradesh, almost decimating the Congress system in the southern state. But there is no other leader in the party with influence in all the regions of Maharashtra.
Despite being removed as chief minister, Deshmukh remained a key player, giving the Congress strength to stand up to Sharad Pawar.
While chief minister Prithviraj Chavan is not considered a mass leader, other Maharashtra leaders such as Sushil Kumar Shinde, Shivraj Patil, Gurudas Kamat or Ashok Chavan do not have the statewide appeal or the organisational clout needed to manage the affairs of the party.
Some feel Narayan Rane is a strong leader and could be a good replacement but he, too, does not have state-wide acceptability. His Shiv Sena background is another handicap.
The Congress, however, is pinning its hopes on pointers from the past, saying how recurrent questions like “who after Nehru”, “who after Indira” and “who after Rajiv” have been satisfactorily answered.
No other party has suffered so much at the hands of fate every now and then, losing leader after leader to untimely death. Although the BJP, too, lost Pramod Mahajan, the list of Congress leaders who have died in their prime is long.
While Sanjay Gandhi died young in a plane crash, Indira was gunned down by her own securitymen at her official residence. The worst came a few years later when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE when he was set to return to power.
The party lost several young leaders after that in quick succession. The death of the dynamic Rajesh Pilot in a car accident robbed the Congress of a leader who was modern in his outlook but who understood farm politics. This was followed by the demise of Jitendra Prasada, who had enormous clout in Uttar Pradesh and was adept at statecraft and political management. He had understood the system in and out during his stints as political adviser to two Prime Ministers.
Within a short span of time came another shock when Madhavrao Scindia died in a plane crash. Scindia had both political experience and charisma and some had seen prime ministerial prospects in him. The party was recovering from that loss when another dynamic political manager, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, took ill and the party’s parliamentary performance considerably weakened.
Ajit Jogi, who had by then emerged as a powerful player in Congress politics, met with an accident and got confined to the wheelchair. Then Rajasekhara Reddy, who had played a crucial role in the party’s successive victories in the 2004 and 2009 general elections, passed away.
The Deshmukh chapter came as another addition to the endless saga of the party’s losing battle with destiny.