Ministerial positions : from 1982 to 1990
For a leader who had entered the high echelons of Maharashtra politics, Vilasrao Deshmukh had a peculiar profile as a man who was born in the rural heartland of Maharashtra, who completed his schooling in a rural environment and who, after studying in Pune for a few years – returned to his bearings in the village. To his seniors, he was the quintessential MP and people's representative of rural Maharashtra. However, thanks to Vilasrao's readiness to take initiatives, his excellent organizational skills and unstoppable penchant for learning through hardwork, he caught the attention of his peers.
His reputation, goodwill and humble personality eased his way into the Cabinet. From 1970 to 1982, he steadily emerged stronger as a dedicated and assiduous MP with a great future ahead of him. In Vidhan Sabha circles, his identity was taking new meaning with the 'Deshmukh' lineage, adding an unmistakable plus to his socially-inclined image. In 1982, the State politics took a new turn with the departure of then Chief Minister Shri A R Antulay, the Congress selected Barrister Shri Babasaheb Bhosale as the New Chief Minister of Maharashtra. It was then that Vilasrao was appointed as State Minister in Maharashtra cabinet.
Between January 1982 to February 1983, under the leadership of CM Shri Babasaheb Bhosale, Vilasrao Deshmukh ably handled the portfolio for Agriculture, Rural Development, Education, Sports, Culture and Youth development.
With the formidable responsibilities thrust upon his shoulders, there was much eagerness in socio-political circles about how Vilasrao will manage the multifarious departments handed over to him and one must say that Vilasrao rose to occasion by magnificently handling all the varied responsibilities in a truly versatile manner. It is this achievement of handling the maximum ministerial portfolios as minister of state that enabled him to up his political graph in years to come.
For Vilasrao, however, his rise to Ministerial post which was topped by responsibility for several key portfolios, was nothing but a God-sent opportunity to showcase his capabilities as well as to educate himself on a diverse set of issues and over almost decade of his ministerial position, Vilasrao made the most of this opportunity.
To the extent that, during the cabinet proceedings, Vilasrao could field any question that was addressed to any portfolio, if the concerned Minister was not present during the session and when the concerned Minister joined the session, it would continue unabated. This indicates how deep and well rounded knowledge Vilasrao has assimilated during the time along with the rare insights that he offered to an issue under question. These are qualities that are found in very few leaders, even today.
In 1983, Chief Minister Shri Babasaheb Bhosale stepped down from his leadership role and mantle was handed over to then Veteran Leader Shri. Vasant Dada Patil.
This was a time of great speculation in political circles, whether Vilasrao – who was seen as Chavan's blue-eyed boy– will get a seat in the new Ministry, but thanks to his reputation as a responsible and result-oriented minister, the then new CM Shri Vasantdada Patil trusted Vilasrao not only with a ministerial position but also gave him highly responsible portfolios.
Between February 1983 to March 1985, Vilasrao handled the highly crucial and sensitive portfolios of Home and Administrative Affairs. For Vilasrao, this was another opportunity to gather knowledge and learn how to run a state on the highest level.
Following the Elections, in the period from March 1985 to June 1985, Vilasrao took over the reins of portfolios relating to Education, Technology & Banking.
During this period, trouble had been brewing over growing inter-party disputes within the Congress, which finally resulted in the resignation of Shri. Vasant Dada Patil, who was replaced by Shri Shivajirao Nilangekar-Patil as the new Chief Minister. However, Vilasrao did not get a position in the new ministry.
Tenure of Nilangekar ministry was cut short and Nilangekar was forced to resign as CM on account of some legal tangles involving his relative. This was a time when the Congress party witnessed a lot of upheavals which would take a dramatic turn in the future. In 1984, after the shocking assassination of Late Smt Indira Gandhi, the Congress invited Late Shri Rajiv Gandhi to take up the leadership of the nation as the new Prime Minister. In 1989, at the behest of Late Shri Rajiv Gandhi, Shri Sharad Pawar, who had left Congress earlier in 1986, returned to the Congress. Just before this happened in March 1986, the reins of the Maharashtra State were once again handed over to Shri. Shankar Rao Chavan, under whose ministry – Vilasrao made a dramatic come back.
Chief Minister Shri Shankar Rao Chavan brought back Vilasrao in the fold and also entrusted him with important portfolios like Revenue, PWD, Transport and Parliamentary affairs.
As CM, Shri Chavan always kept a close vigil on activities of all his ministers and especially on Vilasrao because he belonged to his own native soil of Marathwada and from his own neighbouring town of Latur.
In the post independence era, from among the new breed of leaders emerging out of Marathwada, Vilasrao was looked upon as the most promising and well-honed leader of the masses. The whole of Marathwada looked up to him as the next leader not only for their region and under the tutelage of Shri Shankar Rao Chavan, it can be said that Vilasrao's political grooming came to a full circle.
Between March 1986 to June 1987, Shri Shankar Rao Chavan was inducted back into the Ministry with the Chief Ministership conferred upon Shri Sharad Pawar as per the wishes of Late Shri Rajiv Gandhi.
From 24th June 1988, the day when Shri Sharad Pawar took oath as Chief Minister of Maharashtra till March 1995, when the Congress government lost power in the State, Vilasrao outshone as a senior and distinguished minister of the Maharashtra Government.
Under Shri Sharad Pawar's ministry in 1988, Vilasrao handled key portfolios like education, technology, animal husbandry, milk industries and Fisheries Development. Later under the respective Chief Ministership of Shri. Naik and Shri.Pawar, Vilasrao was in charge of the Ministry of Industry.
In 1996, a massive earthquake shook the heart of Latur. During this period, under guidance of Shri Sharad Pawar, Vilasrao undertook the herculean task of rehabilitating the earthquake affected villages and victims, personally attending to every detail of the exercise.
During this sensitive period, some disagreement arose in the ministry and also, within the Congress party. As an offshoot of this, some key ministers under the Sharad Pawar leadership had shown signs of rebellion in 1990. Amongst them were Shri Ramrao Adik, Shri Sushil kumar Shinde, Shri Suroopsingh Naik, Shri Javed Khan alongwith Vilasrao Deshmukh. After this rebellious burst, Sharad Pawar retained his position as Chief Minister, while no action was taken against the rebels. Even during these testing times, Vilasrao was in power for the next five years and had even risen in stature as a Minister who was seen as a role model by the party leadership in New Delhi.
In the 1995 Vidhan Sabha Elections, Congress lost power in Maharashtra State and to top the disaster, on a personal level, Vilasrao also lost the mandate from his native Latur constituency. Since 1980, this was the first such incident that Vilasrao was altogether absent from Vidhan Sabha.