Former state cooperatives minister Vilasrao Patil-Undalkar (84), who passed away early on Monday, was a die-hard Congress loyalist who never left the party even during its worst phase. He passed away at a hospital in Satara following a brief illness.
“He was not feeling well for last 15 days and was undergoing treatment at a hospital in Satara. He died early this morning,” said a family source. The funeral took place in Undale village at 3 pm on Monday, where a sea of party workers and leaders, cutting across the political spectrum, were present. Undalkar is survived by his son and a daughter.
A seven-time Congress MLA from Karad South constituency, Vilaskaka, as he was fondly addressed, was among the few leaders in Maharashtra Congress who had a mass following. His bastion was Karad South, which he assiduously nurtured and nourished.
When the Congress denied him the nomination from Karad South constituency in the 2014 Assembly elections, to make way for then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, Undalkar contested as an independent candidate and lost to Chavan by a narrow margin. Political analysts say Undalkar would have won the election had the BJP not fielded Atul Bhosale, which resulted in division of votes.
Even while he was contesting as a rebel, the Congress refused to suspend him or sack him. The Congress took no action against Undalkar in view of his long innings with the party, his loyalty and popularity among the masses. Congress leaders said they had made all possible effort to make him withdraw from the electoral fray. “Even Chavan tried to convince him, but failed to do so.
Undalkar argued that since he had worked for the people of Karad for years, why should he opt out,” said a leader.
Though he won from the South Karad Assembly seat so many times, a ministerial berth came his way only in his fifth term. Undalkar first became the state law and justice minister, and then held the departments of dairy development and animal husbandry. “It was Vilasrao Deshmukh who had given Kaka his ministerial berth. Deshmukh had also given him the key charge of cooperatives ministry,” said political analyst Ravikiran Deshmukh.
Admired for his clean image in public life, Undalkar was outspoken and straightforward in his approach. which at times did not go down well with senior leaders. “In the 2004 elections, when the Congress won fewer seats than the NCP and was in the process of selecting its legislature party leader, Undalkar had thrown his weight behind Sushilkumar Shinde. When party seniors asked him the reason, Undalkar contended that the party had won under Shinde and since he was a Dalit leader as well, he should be elected as the legislature party leader,” said Ravikiran Deshmukh.
This cost Undalkar a ministerial berth in the cabinet headed by Vilasrao Deshmukh. But Undalkar did not seem to mind and continued to serve the party in any way he could.
Paying tribute, state Congress president Balasaheb Thorat said, “In the death of Vilaskaka, the party has lost a staunch loyalist and an experienced party leader who enjoyed a mass following.”
Former chief minister Ashok Chavan said, “In the passing away of Vilaskaka, the Congress has lost a true torchbearer and a leader who remained loyal to the party throughout his life. Even in the difficult times, he never left the Congress and followed its ideology strictly. For 35 years, he continued being elected as an MLA, which showed his wide acceptance among the masses.”
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