Party tribute: Vilasrao son set to join ministry Induction with ally bond hope

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By SAMYABRATA RAY GOSWAMI
  • Published 17.08.12
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Amit Deshmukh (second from right) looks on as his mother Vaishali accepts condolences from the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi waits to pay her respects to Vilasrao Deshmukh at his funeral in Latur on Wednesday. (PTI)

Mumbai, Aug. 16: The Maharashtra government has decided to induct Vilasrao Deshmukh’s eldest son Amit, 36, into the state cabinet after the monsoon session of Parliament.

Vilasrao, a Union minister and a former Maharashtra chief minister, died in Chennai on August 14, aged 67.

“The decision was taken by the Congress high command in consultation with the Maharashtra chief minister as a mark of tribute to Vilasrao. Amit is a young MLA and has ably assisted his father in the past 14 years,” said a Mumbai Congress leader whose father was a minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet.

Amit, a chemical engineer and MLA from Latur city — Vilasrao was MP from Latur — is serving his first term in the Assembly. He contested his first election in 2009 and won by 89,480 votes — the fourth-largest victory margin in Maharashtra Assembly elections.

Dhreeraj, the second of Vilasrao’s three sons, is a businessman and Riteish, the youngest, is a Bollywood actor.

State Congress sources, however, claimed the decision to induct Amit into the cabinet was taken long before Vilasrao’s death as part of a wider strategy to unify the faction-ridden state unit before the 2014 elections.

“The party leadership is keen on a cabinet reshuffle in the state that will bring in new blood and represent all the factions and regions. Amit Deshmukh was marked out as one of them (prospective inductees),” state Congress president Manikrao Thakre said.

“There has been a feeling for sometime that mass-based leaders like Vilasrao, Ashok Chavan and industries minister Narayan Rane have been ignored for too long, and that chief minister Prithviraj Chavan needs to reach out to them and other MLAs to strengthen the party in the state.”

Both Vilasrao and Ashok Chavan had been affected after their names cropped up in the Adarsh Housing Society scam.

Amit represents Marathwada, where his father’s name holds sway, but the party’s support base has been shrinking in the region since Vilasrao lost his chief ministership in 2008 following the 26/11 attacks.

Earlier this year, riding on Vilasrao’s shoulders, the Congress had won the highest number of seats from Latur in the state zilla parishad polls.

“It was all Amit’s good work. He is a good fundraiser for the party like his father,” said Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Nawab Malik.

Vilasrao shared a warm relationship with the Sharad Pawar-led NCP, the Congress’s partner in the state’s ruling coalition. Prithviraj Chavan, however, has had an uneasy bond with the NCP, and Amit’s induction is expected to help in that direction as well.

Amit began his political career with the state Youth Congress. When his father became chief minister in 1999, Amit began liaising with the sugar cooperatives in Marathwada and oversaw the activities of the family’s charitable trust.

When his father became chief minister for a second consecutive term, Amit took on the role of his chief aide and consultant while administering Vilasrao’s constituency in Latur.

“He has been groomed well by Vilasrao. Although he keeps a low profile, Amit has the ability to lead Maharashtra in the future,” state Congress president Thakre said.

The decision to give Amit a cabinet berth has led to some heartburn in the state Congress, though.

“Amit is being offered a ministership on a platter because he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and because he can raise funds for the party ahead of the 2014 elections,” said the Congress leader whose father was a national leader from the state but who has not been among the state’s chosen young Turks.

“But it is one thing to flex one’s muscles under the umbrella of an influential father, and totally another to climb steps in politics without him. Legacy is not everything.”