Anil Deshmukh is one of the few remaining politicians in Maharashtra who have managed to find a berth in the state cabinet irrespective of which party came to power. The only exception for the five-time MLA was when the Devendra Fadnavis-led government came to power in the 2014 Maharashtra Assembly elections and Deshmukh was ignominiously defeated in his pocket borough of Katol by a family member.
Deshmukh, who hails from Wadvihira village near Katol in Nagpur district, started off his political journey as an Independent MLA in 1995, extending support to the Shiv Sena-BJP government, which rewarded him by making him the Minister of State for Education and Culture.
He subsequently broke off his ties with the Sena-BJP government and hitched his wagon to the newly-formed Nationalist Congress Party.
He won an NCP ticket from Katol and made a leap into the big league when he was upgraded from the Minister of State to Cabinet Minister in 2001 with the charge of excise and food and drugs.
Deshmukh had his most visible moments as minister of the public works department (public undertakings) when the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation was building the ambitious Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Always accessible to the media, Deshmukh was happy to be interviewed and arranged frequent visits for journalists to the under-construction project.
However, he was dropped during a cabinet reshuffle before the BWSL was inaugurated. His re-entry into the state cabinet came in 2009 when he held the charge of food, civil supplies and consumer protection.
Deshmukh lost the 2014 elections to his nephew. He came back by winning the seat again in 2019. Though many saw Deshmukh as an unlikely candidate at the helm of the sensitive Home Ministry, he was NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s choice. His gaffe-prone behaviour and frequent loose talks embarrassed the government on several occasions, with Deshmukh having to clarify some of his statements.
Deshmukh recently scored a self-goal in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly while attacking the BJP. In an attempt to target the BJP and claim how good the law and order situation in Maharashtra was, Deshmukh pointed to the suicide of Mohan Delkar as well as an IAS official from Madhya Pradesh, stating that both of them had said that they would only get justice in Maharashtra and not in their home states that are ruled by the BJP.
Minutes after stating this, Leader of the Opposition Devendra Fadnavis pointed out that the IAS officer, whom Deshmukh had referred to, hailed from Congress-ruled Chattisgarh. An embarrassed Deshmukh had to subsequently set the record straight in the House.
Mumbai Commissioner Parambir Singh is not the first civil servant to attack him. In April 2020, Deshmukh was criticised by retired IAS officer and Chairman of the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) Anand Kulkarni.
In a cryptic social media post, Kulkarni had threatened to expose Deshmukh. “All his acts were governed by high ethical and moral standards. Highlights of his decade long tenure were his transparent, speedy and straightforward handling of two areas: (1) Allotment of molasses to concerned stakeholders (2) Transfers of excise department officers. I have compiled documents of these honest activities and other areas. These include comments of the judiciary on his all-round ethos.” Kulkarni had said in his post.
“I am now waiting to disseminate my work into public domain for all and one to see his lofty achievements. I have painstakingly done homework on the noble activities of Honorable Shri Deshmukh. At an appropriate time I intend to make my findings public,” the post added.
In February 2008, a mob of the Shiv Sainiks had lynched a man in Deshmukhs’s presence in Tarsa near Nagpur.