A sea of humanity descended upon the village of Babhalgaon in Maharashtra’s Latur district on Wednesday and bid a tearful adieu to Union Minister and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
Mr. Deshmukh, who commenced his meteoric political career as a humble sarpanch of this village, was cremated in his ancestral field next to his home with full State honours.
The district saw a huge gathering of emotional men and women from the villages of Marathwada and other parts of the State, as lakhs of people from every class and religious denomination choked all roads leading to Babhalgaon.
People fervidly recalled Mr. Deshmukh’s achievements and contributions in transforming Marathwada, notably the setting up of the Manjara sugar cooperative factory in the district thereby ushering in a sugar revolution of sorts in the rain-shadow Eastern belt of the State.
Thousands of grieving women lined the streets of Latur, recounting anecdotes of Mr. Deshmukh’s personal kindnesses as the crowds swelled into the Dayanand Vidyalaya — where his body was displayed in a glass-and-wood casket for the public to pay their last respects.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi reached the village in the afternoon to pay homage to the departed leader and laid wreaths on the wooden casket. They were accompanied by Union Ministers Mukul Wasnik and Rajiv Shukla.
While Dr. Singh was seen talking to Mr. Deshmukh’s eldest son, Amit, Ms. Gandhi shared an emotional moment with Mr. Deshmukh’s wife, Vaishali, who fought back her tears.
Almost all the top brass of the State Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, including Sharad Pawar, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Sushilkumar Shinde, Ajit Pawar, Chhagan Bhujbal, R.R. Patil and Manikrao Thakre were present as were top Bharatiya Janata Party leaders from Maharashtra including Nitin Gadkari, senior leader Gopinath Munde, and Mr. Deshmukh’s close friend and spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray and the former Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan, also gathered for the funeral.
Military personnel accompanied the casket, wrapped in the national flag, as the body was first taken to the ancestral home of the Deshmukhs and then brought to the premises of the Dayanand Vidyalaya.There, police were forced to resort to a mild lathicharge to keep the masses from spilling over to the stage where the casket was laid.
The mourners were led by Amit, his brothers Riteish and Dheeraj, and Mr. Deshmukh’s wife Vaishali.
The final rites took place in the field known as ‘Ambyache Raan’ (forest of mangoes) in a specially built shed, close to the place where Mr. Deshmukh’s father Dagadojirao was cremated.
Amit lit his father’s funeral pyre, as the crowds burst into chants of “long live Vilasrao Deshmukh.”