With the demise of 85-year-old Abdul Rehman Antulay, a staunch Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi loyalist and former Maharashtra chief minister, the Congress lost a leader who always wanted to do something for the party and people. However, his rough-and-tough style of functioning always landed him in controversies, which he managed to come out with dexterity.
Ahead of the recent Lok Sabha elections, Antulay was in the news after he had issued a letter to Congress workers in his home district, Raigad, not to work for Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate Sunil Tatkare. He had publicly pledged support to the opposition Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) candidate. Antulay's move forced former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and other party leaders to reach out to him and convince him. An arch rival of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Antulay had held NCP responsible for Congress’ poor presence in Raigad. Antulay was at the forefront of a botched move to remove Pawar as chief minister in January 1991.
Antulay blamed Sonia Gandhi and Rahul for the party’s rout in this year’s general elections. “We have been forced to see this day because of the high command,” he said. He was unhappy that no one had consulted him on how to revive the party in the state.
The Congress was left red-faced when he claimed that Maharashtra Police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, killed in terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, might be related to his investigation of the 2006 Malegaon blasts (in which Right-wing organisations were suspected to have been involved), thereby questioning the Mumbai attacks. Later he changed his stand and told Parliament he had not talked about who killed the police officers but about who “sent them in the wrong direction”. Karkare along with former additional commissioner of police Ashok Kamte and former senior inspector Vijay Salaskar, who were travelling in the same vehicle, were also killed. Antulay was then Union minority affairs minister.
Antulay was picked by Indira Gandhi in her bid to checkmate Maratha leaders. She appointed him the Maharashtra chief minister in June 1980. He remained in the news for his decisions to form new districts, implement Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Yonaja and making the bureaucracy to toe his line for a slew of pro-people decisions. However, his troubles started when he established a trust — Indira Gandhi Pratibha Pratisthan — and was accused of collecting funds through illegal means.
During the era of the 'Licence Raj', Antulay was found to have favoured the donors by allotting cement quotas, which were under government control. The issue blew up into a major controversy and led to litigation. The court found him guilty and he was forced to quit in January 1982.
Despite his resignation as the chief minister, Antulay again got elected to the state assembly in 1985 and remained until 1989 when he was elected to the 9th Lok Sabha. He was re-elected to the 10th Lok Sabha in 1991 and made the minister of health in the Narsimha Rao government. He was later elected to the 11th and 14th Lok Sabha.