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.
Huge crowds had begun descending on Latur town since
early morning with thousands lining up the road from the airport to Babhalgaon hours before Deshmukh's body was flown in by a special Indian Air Force plane.
In a reflection of Deshmukh's popularity, the mourners blocked the road and stopped the motorcade at several places to have one last glimpse of the leader. It took the convoy almost two-and-a-half hours to traverse the 14 km distance from airport to Deshmukh's village.
Police had to used batons to keep the milling crowds under control as they surged near the stage where the coffin was kept at Babhalgaon.
Shops and commercial establishments in Latur downed shutters since yesterday soon after the news of Deshmukh's demise broke.
In a spontaneous outpouring of grief, several women, some carrying babies in arms, broke down uncontrollably at the Dayanand Vidyalaya where their beloved leader's body was kept.
Deshmukh's body was taken to his ancestral house Deshmukh Gadhi for close family members to bid the final goodbye.
Chants of "Vilasrao Deshmukh amar rahe" and "Jab tak suraj chand rahega Vilasrao tera naam rahega", rent the air as Amit lit the funeral pyre at the family farm 'Ambyache Raan', the final resting place of Babhalgaon's most famous son.
Babhalgaon: Thousands of grieving supporters and family on Wednesday 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.
First Published: Wednesday, August 15, 2012, 19:54