Leaders cut across party lines to pay their last respects

Thousands of grieving supporters and family today bade a tearful adieu to Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh whose mortal remains were consigned to flames at his native Babhalgaon village from where he began his political journey as an obscure sarpanch four decades ago.

A sea of humanity, including hundreds of moist-eyed women, converged here, on the outskirts of district town of Latur, for the last glimpse of the illustrious son of the soil who rose in their midst to stride the corridors of power in Mumbai and Delhi.

In attendance were a galaxy of leaders including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Union ministers Sushilkumar Shinde, Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel, Vayalar Ravi, Rajiv Shukla, Mukul Wasnik, Maharashtra Governor K Sankaranarayanan, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, his deputy Ajit Pawar and a host of Bollywood personalities.

Since soft-spoken Deshmukh never allowed political affiliations to come in the way of friendship, rivals like BJP president Nitin Gadkari and party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde were also present. So were Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and former Karnataka chief minister Dharam Singh.

The last rites were performed by Deshmukh’s eldest son and Latur town MLA Amit at a family farm close to where his father Dagdojirao Deshmukh was cremated.

Deshmukh, 67, died yesterday at Chennai’s Global Hospital from serious liver ailment, a week after he was flown in an air ambulance from Mumbai in a critical condition.

Earlier, a solemn-looking Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi placed wreaths on the casket carrying the body of Deshmukh, state’s tallest Congress leader and twice chief minister, at Dayanand Vidyalaya where it lay in state for public to pay their last respects.

Gandhi walked up to Deshmukh’s widow Vaishali, who fought back tears, and held her in comforting embrace as the Prime Minister offered his condolences to the departed leader’s son Amit. Deshmukh’s teary-eyed family members, including his wife, actor son Riteish and Dheeraj, acknowledged with gratitude the condolences with folded hands.

(This article was published on August 15, 2012)
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