At exactly 4.42pm, according to the time specified by the attending priests, Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's three sons — Amit, Riteish and Dhiraj — offered a 'mukhanjali' and his mortal remains were consigned to flames at the same spot on his farm in Babhalgaon village of Latur where his father had been cremated a few years ago.
What Deshmukh could not achieve in life, he seemed to have accomplished in death: an endorsement from Union minister and president of Nationalist Congress Party, Sharad Pawar, who had always considered Deshmukh a threat and his closest rival within the Congress, and even after he split the party to form one of his own.
While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi arrived at 1pm and offered ‘shraddhanjali’ to Deshmukh at Dayanand school grounds in the village before leaving less than an hour later, Pawar, accompanied by Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, arrived at 4pm and offered tribute to the departed leader.
In his address later, Pawar described Deshmukh as a deep thinker and a great administrator who unfortunately passed away before his time, but one who had left his mark on the state.
Shinde recalled his close relationship with Deshmukh, both in the state government and lately at the Centre, while chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was full of praise for Deshmukh's vast experience in practically every sector of the government over his long years as a minister and chief minister.
He said some of Deshmukh's decisions were far-sighted, and all were aimed at benefiting the common man.
There seemed to be no party lines, as Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari, BJP spokesperson Prakash Jawdekar and even Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray arrived in Latur.
Nearly all state cabinet ministers and most prominent state Congress leaders attended the funeral. Others present were Rajasthan chief minister Aahok Gehlot, former Karnataka chief minister Dharam Singh, Union minister Vyalar Ravi and several bureaucrats associated with Deshmukh at the Centre.
The Latur airport, built by Deshmukh under the employment guarantee scheme, was packed with over 30 aircraft. The highway was also jammed for over an hour.
Deshmukh was accorded a state funeral with a 17-gun salute.
About eight lakh people, according to police estimates, turned up for the funeral procession. Most of the mourners were from Latur district, where Deshmukh introduced rail and air services, provided employment to large numbers of people through his sugar factories, and contributed a great deal to the quality of education.Remembering Vilasrao Deshmukh
| PM, Sonia pay homage to Deshmukh