Entry into social services and politics
From his early years, Vilasrao Deshmukh has been a man with a progressive and modern approach. His guiding philosophy has been clear - whatever is new, modern and up to date, must be available in Latur. However, this vision does not extend to his constituency alone, he too has groomed himself in a way that reflects the aura of a man who moves with the times.
Born into a family of traditional Deshmukh landlords, Vilasrao's inheritance comprised beyond large farm lands. He also inherited a progressive attitude, which took him to Pune for undertaking higher studies after finishing his early education. The city of Pune proved to be his learning ground, where he would later earn three crucial degrees. After earning a first place in Science, he went on to achieve degrees in law and political science.
Starting a law practice might have been his goal, but soon enough it was taken over by his innate desire for serving his soil through social service and leading his people towards a better future.
During his years of study at the Pune University, Vilasrao did not limit his study to the prescribed curriculums or bookish knowledge, so to say. Rather, he was engaged in amassing as much information, practical knowledge, and interpersonal skills that would later serve him well in his foray in public service. Alongwith his studies, Vilasrao was keenly involved in building up a self-style 'personality development program', which helped him acquire a mature, intellectual, qualitative and grassroot-oriented persona and a visionary approach that continues till this day.
During those days, the movement for an independent and unified Maharashtra State
had gained momentum under the leadership of Veteran Leader Shri Yeshwantrao Chavan and under his tutelage, the mobilization of leaders across the State was at its peak. At this time, Pune also witnessed the advent and meteoric rise of another political stalwart - Shri. Sharad Pawar.
The time, therefore, was just right for young and emerging leaders like Vilasrao to take the plunge in social and political activities.
Moving forward - from Village Head to MLA
True to his birth in one of the most prominent families in his native village, Vilasrao had imbibed the passion for leadership and public service right from his early years. His father, Late Shri Dagdojirao (or Dada as he was fondly called) was the Village Head (Sarpanch) for over 15 years. By virtue of his position, he was associated with the local panchayat committees, trading committees and many such organizations. Naturally then, young Vilasrao's interests veered towards public service and socio-political activities.
With a family that had long been a supporter of the Congress-party and being a Congress worker himself, Vilasrao had absolutely no two thoughts about which political party he would opt for. In light of this, he used to proudly say, "I am a born Congressman !".
After completing his law studies, Vilasrao returned to his native Latur in Marathwada region of Maharashtra to begin his political career with the Youth Congress. He had already been associated with the Youth Congress, during his stay in Pune.
Beginning as Block Secretary of the local Youth Congress unit, he rose to become the President thereof and finally, became District President of Youth Congress. In the year 1972, under the Youth Congress, Vilasrao worked on his first Vidhansabha election campaign for Senior Leader Shri Shivraj Patil (erstwhile Union Home Minister, President-Loksabha and currently, Governor of Punjab). Young Vilasrao campaigned aggressively for the leader.
These were the days when the State was facing severe drought conditions and looking at the adverse conditions, Vilasrao formed an action committee for relief activities, undertaking a lot of public service activity for the masses. His routine covered everything - from addressing people's labour-related issues to supervising distribution of subsidized foodgrains, overseeing fund-raising activity to many other services aimed at alleviating the lives of the drought-affected masses.
With the right mix of political activity combined with social initiatives behind him, Vilasrao took his first step towards active politics in 1974 by winning the Gram Panchayat elections in his native Babhalgaon village. He built a cohesive committee of 11 members to support the Panchayat activities. His father, who was erstwhile Sarpanch, had already stepped down from his position as Village Head when the opposition came to power.
But public opinion was in favour of Vilasrao and they wanted him to have complete support in his new position. That's why all 11 contenders in his committee were elected with the total support of the villagers and thus, paved the way for Vilasrao to become the new Village Head (Sarpanch) of Babhalgaon with a victorious mandate. Thus, armed with the love and goodwill of his people, Vilasrao had crossed the first milestone in politics and public life.
Leadership on District Level
During his tenure as village head, there was a significant change in State politics and Marathwada-based Senior Leader Shri Shankarrao Chavan became the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. The new Chief Minister chose Shri Shivraj Patil, then MP from Latur, to join his cabinet of Ministers. Soon afterwards, Vilasrao successfully contested the Panchayat Samiti elections in what was earlier Osmanabad District and emerged victorious. Vilasrao now moved forward from Village Sarpanch to Up-Sabhapati of Panchayat Committee at the Taluka Level. He also enjoyed the position of District President-Youth Congress. It was a time of great reckoning for the Youth Congress, which was headed by none other than the dynamic Sanjay Gandhi in those days.
Young Vilasrao toiled hard in his work for the Youth Congress, touring most parts of the State and attending conferences and meetings all over. During this time, young Vilasrao got in touch with Shri Ulhasdada Pawar, who was then President of Maharashtra State Youth Congress. The respect and good relations that he struck with the senior leader continue till date and it was Shri Ulhasdada Pawar who nominated Vilasrao for the coveted post of President, District Youth Congress.
During these days, Youth Congress leader Vilasrao was a known champion for the well known 5-point program initiated by Late Smt. Indira Gandhi. On lines of the program, he took various steps to popularize the five points program among the local masses, comprising of - tree plantation, family planning, oath against dowry and such social development-oriented program. His commitment to these social causes and his tireless efforts towards making them successful at the grassroots level caught the attention of then Chief Minister Shri. Shankarrao Chavan.
During the span of 1975-1980, Vilasrao had left his indelible mark of his leadership and tireless service across many platforms he was associated with, viz. the Panchayat Samiti, Zilla Parishad and the Youth Congress. In 1980, the political dynamics in Maharashtra was changing rapidly as Hon. Shri Shivraj Patil left his domain as Vidhansabha Speaker to move on to a position as Central cabinet minister. It was during this crucial period that a defeated (Late) Smt Indira Gandhi relinquished the Indian National Congress to start her own party – Congress I, a move that changed entire history of Indian politics.
After Shri. Shivraj Patil got elected on Loksabha, Congress party selected Vilasrao Deshmukh to contest from Patil's vacant candidature and in Year 1980, Vilasrao Deshmukh assumed his pivotal role as MLA from Latur in the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha.
Vilasrao's pleasant demeanour and an illustrious background, which comprised of his active social and political exposure at Gram Panchayat and Zilla Parishad levels, followed by his exemplary work as Youth Congress leader, his campaigning for the drought-affected, and experience with rural and co-operative banking sector and also on account of his high qualifications, there was no doubt that even the veteran leaders in Maharashtra politics had high expectations from Vilasrao.
Even though Vilasrao represented the rural and grassroot population of Maharashtra in political domain, he had already polished his soft-skills during his early years in Pune. During his student life in Pune, Vilasrao astutely followed the oratory of two remarkable leaders and these were – Late Shri Yeshwantrao Chavan, the architect of modern Maharashtra and Late Shri Acharya Atre, the fountainhead of Independent Maharashtra State and its socio-cultural revival. His early exposure to and influence of the thought-provoking speeches of these matchless leaders definitely left an impact on the grooming and mindset of Vilasrao, a fact that is often reflected in both, his speech, vision and action - in public as well as private life.
For a young leader, who had risen from rural heartland of Marathwada, who had amassed intellect and learning and people's blessing with his selfless devotion to serving others, there was much more in store. Vilasrao's chequered rise to the Vidhan Sabha was thus cut out for his rise to a ministerial post. His journey from MP to Minister of State though meteoric took a little time to bear fruit but Vilasrao marched on – calm and confident as ever.