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A.R. Antulay: The enfant terrible of Maharashtra politics
Tuesday December 2, 2014 7:01 PM, Quaid Najmi, IANS

Abdul Rehman Antulay, who died Tuesday, entered student politics way back in 1945, kicking off a long political career that saw him become the first Muslim to become chief minister of Maharashtra in 1980.

AR Antulay

The high-profile "Barrister Antulay" - as he was popularly referred to in political circles - seemed to be an unending bundle of controversies several times in his seven-decade-long political career.

Born in February 1929 at Ambet village in then Kulaba district (now Raigad), Antulay plunged into student politics in 1945 before going to London from where he earned the coveted degree of Barrister-at-Law.

On returning, he continued his political life becoming a legislator in 1962 and later serving as a minister in various capacities till 1976 when he was elevated to the Rajya Sabha, and later drew close to Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

His days of glory came as Indira Gandhi, riding a crest of renewed popularity, regained power after the collapse of the Janata Party government in January 1980.

After the Maharashtra assembly elections a few months later, she handpicked the flamboyant Antulay as chief minister, apparently hoping to cut to size the powerful Maratha lobby which dominates state politics.

Antulay, trained in the 'Sanjay Gandhi brigade', was a man in a tearing hurry, wanting to implement many things simultaneously, the poor grabbing centre stage in his plans.

Abhorring delays in decision-making and implementation, the new chief minister cracked the whip on the bureaucracy.

He launched a monthly financial aid scheme for poor and destitute called the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Yojana, pension and housing facilities for legislators and media persons, and many more initiatives.

Later, he set up the the Indira Gandhi Pratisthan Trusts which allegedly solicited donations from the builders community in return for cement quotas in those days when it was a controlled commodity.

Following the expose by The Indian Express, the subsequent national furore, and an unfavourable ruling of the Bombay High Court, he was forced to resign in January 1982.

However, he was exonerated of all the allegations years later, paving his way for rehabilitation in the party and in the central government, though his first love was to lead the state as chief minister again.

"I had done nothing wrong. I was targeted by political rivals but they failed. I suffered some setbacks, but they could not destroy me," he later said of his victory.

Noted criminal lawyer J.P. Mishra, who represented Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ramdas Nayak in the corruption cases he had filed against Antulay, paid tributes to his old adversary, acknowledging him as "an administrator par excellence", whose heart always beat for the poor and downtrodden.

"He was a truly great human being. He set up the trusts for the benefit of the poorest people in society, but they became his undoing. Even during the trial, he was always amiable and soft-spoken, never harbouring animosity or ill-will against anybody," said Mishra, who is now the BJP North Mumbai unit president of the BJP.

Later, as the minority affairs minister in the first United Progressive Alliance government, Antulay again raked up a mega-controversy when he raised doubts about how certain police officials, particularly then Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Hemant Karkare, were killed during the Mumbai Nov 26, 2008 terror attack.

Under attacks from various groups, he subsequently backtracked and diluted his original stand even as the Congress distanced itself terming them as Antulay's "personal views".

Elected to Lok Sabha four times, twice to Rajya Sabha and six times as legislator, Antulay managed to remain in the limelight whether in the government or outside.

Considered among the most secular leaders and intellectuals of the Congress, he had once sought to endear himself to the Maratha community by demanding that Britain return the legendary 'Bhavani talwar' (sword) of Chhatrapati Shivaji kept in a London museum.

More recently, he was again in the limelight when he lost the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and virtually rebelled when he was sidelined for the seat again in 2014 by the Congress.

In the last few months of his life he virtually retired from active politics and was almost forgotten by the Congress till he was admitted to a Mumbai hospital a few days days ago where he breathed his last Tuesday.

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