We have lost a progressive politician, says Prithviraj Chavan

An able administrator, a skilled orator and, above all, a consummate politician — these were some of the tributes as leaders of Maharashtra reacted with grief and disbelief to the passing away of the Sarpanch of Babhalgaon, as the former Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, was known.

The death of the two-time Chief Minister and key Maratha leader will leave a void in the Congress, especially as Maharashtra gears up for the Assembly elections in 2014.

The Congress has lost one of its tallest leaders in the State, said NCP chief Sharad Pawar in New Delhi, recalling Mr. Deshmukh’s abilities as an astute administrator.

“We have lost a progressive politician who had a meteoric rise from a sarpanch to the Chief Minister. He did not attain this status merely by luck, but by force of his pragmatic personality,” said Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in New Delhi.

While Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde mourned his “closest colleague,” BJP president Nitin Gadkari commented on the “tremendous impact” Mr. Deshmukh’s personality left in the politics of the State.

Recalling him as a humane politician, senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, a close friend who hails from Marathwada, said Mr. Deshmukh never let politics come between their friendship, whatever the differences.

“It’s hard to believe he is no more with us … He was such a large-hearted man,” said Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar.

His personal qualities apart, consensus in political circles was on Mr. Deshmukh’s abilities as a political manager, who kept himself abreast of political developments even at the zilla level.

“He observed the politics of the State very closely. He knew every nerve, every artery and always kept in touch with the grassroots. He had a tremendous grasp of local politics,” said Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray.

Despite wanting to transform Mumbai into a Shanghai, Mr. Deshmukh never lost touch with tradition, recall his colleagues.

“He was friendly, patient, magnanimous … never a publicity-seeker. A lot of people are not aware of the man’s personal magnanimity, of his little acts of generosity that made him so endearing,” Ulhas Pawar, one of Mr. Deshmukh’s most trusted aides, told The Hindu.

Mr. Pawar, along with Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat, formed part of Mr. Deshmukh’s inner circle and the two were rewarded with key portfolios in the State Cabinet.

PCC president Manikrao Thakre recalled his 30-year association with Mr. Deshmukh, when the two were part of a youthful Congress leadership in Maharashtra in the 1980s.

The body of the Union Minister will be brought from Chennai to Latur for last rites in his hometown, Babhalgaon.

The Maharashtra government has declared a three-day mourning in the State.

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