Faraway in the national capital, Vilasrao Deshmukh is down but certainly not out. Opposition parties and baiters in the Congress party here have launched a campaign for the Union minister’s ouster from the UPA Cabinet. The trigger is Deshmukh’s indictment by various courts and by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Now, the timing is crucial. For, the Congress is facing challenge from its ruling partner, the Nationalist Congress Party, in Deshmukh’s home-town of Latur ahead of the elections to its municipal corporation. Deshmukh, a former Maharashtra chief minister, has so far kept himself away from addressing election rallies. Observers see this as a conscious move to avoid giving political ammunition to the state’s opposition. Even so, the Union minister has bestowed the pertinent electioneering responsibility to his son and Congress legislator, Amit Deshmukh.
On April 4, the Supreme Court had upheld a Mumbai high court order and directed Bollywood producer-director Subhash Ghai to return to the state government a 14.5-acre plot that was earlier given to his Whistling Woods Institute. It was during Deshmukh’s tenure as the chief minister that the land was allotted to Ghai — at a price of Rs 3 crore.
Further, Deshmukh, who is now minister of science and technology in the Union Cabinet, has lately been indicted by the Comptroller and Auditor General for certain preferential allotment of land in this metropolis. The Opposition BJP had leaked the auditor’s report, and has announced that its plan to table the document’s official version in the legislature on April 16. According to the report, the government had allotted the 23,840-square-metre plot in suburban Borivali to the Manjara Charitable Trust on September 28, 2005, when Deshmukh was chief minister. Its area was meant for opening a dental college at an occupancy price of Rs 6.56 crore.
Nearly a fortnight ago, on March 28, the metropolitan magistrate’s court directed the Marine Drive police station in south Mumbai to investigate allegations that Deshmukh protected a Congress MLA from complaints by poor farmers in Buldhana district of Vidarbha. The pertinent incident took place in May 2006 — again, when Deshmukh was chief minister. Farmers from Vidarbha, led by a certain Sarangdharsingh Chavan, filed complaints against legislator Dilip Kumar Sananda and his family for “torturing” them to recover the loan amount and charging an interest of 10 per cent per month.
This apart, Opposition parties are demanding Deshmukh’s scalp over the Adarsh Housing Society scam. They observed that the former CM had played a crucial role in giving clearances to the society meant to provide accommodation for widows of Kargil heroes. While some government officials and former military personnel have been arrested so far, the Opposition is questioning why the Central Bureau of Investigation has so far avoided questioning Deshmukh, along with former chief ministers, Sushilkumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan, who during their tenure have reportedly taken decisions paving the way for the construction of Adarsh society.
Chavan’s name figured in the list of accused, while the investigation agency has not mentioned Deshmukh and Shinde as accused. However, both Deshmukh and Shinde have made their written submissions to the judicial commission that is probing the Adarsh scam.
Deshmukh, who has survived political storms in the past, is hopeful of sailing through from the present crisis, thanks to his proximity to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her political advisor Ahmad Patel. The Union minister has preferred to keep a low profile while announcing that he will comment on the pertinent CAG report after its official version is tabled in the legislature.
As for the cancellation of land to Ghai and the high court’s remarks against him, Deshmukh said he had already filed a petition in the apex court with a plea to expunge those remarks against him. The Bench has served notices to the parties seeking replies.
However, Deshmukh’s indictment and subsequent campaign against him has been as bad news, especially for his supporters who were looking at him to once again come back to the state to assume the chief minister’s post. This is at a time when a section of the Congress party legislators and leaders have launched a low-key campaign against incumbent Prithviraj Chavan for being “inactive” and “slow” in decision-making.
A Congress minister, who is a Deshmukh loyalist, said the union minister, who has held the CM’s post twice in Maharashtra, is the “tallest leader” in the state. “He is a mass leader. He has come up to the present position by hard work and organisational skills,” the minister told Business Standard. “We are all confident that he will sail through the present bad patch.”
The minister recalled that Deshmukh had, after the November 26 Mumbai terror attack in 2008, resigned as the state chief minister after he got mired in a controversy over visiting the Taj hotel, one of the targets of terrorists, accompanying the Bollywood filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma.