The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Father and son in same sinking boat

Mumbai, Jan. 14: Just before Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh left for Delhi to make a last attempt to save his chair, he pulled out all stops to make his son’s debut film, Tujhe Meri Kasam, a hit by requesting all Congressmen to watch it.

Both the attempts sank; one at the Congress high command’s door, and the other at the box office.

While Ritesh Deshmukh’s debut couldn’t really take off, Deshmukh senior, too, is on his way out. As a source close to him said: “CM saheb ka luck theek nahin hai abhi.’’

But if state Congress chief Govindrao Adik and his coterie dug Deshmukh’s grave, it was the chief minister himself who supplied the spade to do it.

Congressmen didn’t take kindly to Deshmukh’s “un-CM like” appeal to party members to make Ritesh’s film a hit. His spending Rs 1 crore on a lavish and glittering ceremony to launch the movie, especially at a time when Maharashtra was staggering under a debt burden of Rs 75,000 crore, didn’t help either.

Deshmukh was always perceived to be a soft chief minister, too close to Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar for anybody’s comfort. His detractors went to the extent of saying that most of the Democratic Front’s policies — of which the NCP is a partner — took the line dictated by Pawar.

There was open rebellion within the Congress, with Adik and his supporters repeatedly petitioning party president Sonia Gandhi to “remedy” the situation.

Not that Deshmukh didn’t rush to 10 Janpath with a litany of his own complaints, mostly against the state chief and his followers.

However, if there was anything that nailed Deshmukh’s fate, it was the threat from a rejuvenated BJP, victorious after the Gujarat elections, and the Shiv Sena’s massive attempts at increasing its base. The Sena has not only organised huge drives to garner fresh memberships, it also held programmes to aggressively woo the non-Marathi and north Indian voters.

While senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde went on a statewide yatra to “expose the Democratic Front government’s failures and reach out to voters”, Deshmukh was mostly busy trying to rein in the rebels.

One of the most potent complaints against the chief minister was that the Congress failed to grow as a party during his tenure.

The Congress’ biggest worry though is getting a leader who can take them through with the 2004 Assembly elections.

A Congress leader, commenting on the developments that have shaken the party out of its slumber, said: “Things were already bad when Deshmukh took over. And then (Narendra) Modi happened in Gujarat.’’

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