Champion of peace Deshpande dies in sleep (Second Lead)

May 1st, 2008 - 3:32 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pratibha Patil

New Delhi, May 1 (IANS) Nirmala Deshpande, one of India’s last Gandhians whose life was devoted to the cause of the poor and downtrodden, died in her sleep here Thursday morning. She was 79. “She fought for the cause of peace throughout her life and in death we found her with her hands folded,” said her former private secretary Peter Parekapetil.

“She had not visited the hospital in the recent past and did not complain of any ailments except for joint pains. She died peacefully in her sleep in the wee hours of Thursday,” Parekapetil told IANS.

Deshpande, who was a Rajya Sabha MP, in fact had kept a busy schedule in her last few days. She was in Bihar last week to meet up with fellow Gandhians and returned early this week. Deshpande, who was popularly known as Didi, went to parliament a day earlier and interacted with fellow parliamentarians and friends.

“She had an early dinner and retired to bed. At 4 a.m. her personal attendant checked on her and she was still alive. An hour later, we found that she had breathed her last,” said Parekapetil.

As news of her death came in, long term associates, fellow Gandhians and MPs queued up to pay homage at her Shahjahan Road residence. Her body will be kept in a casket till Friday for the public to pay obeisance.

“She will be cremated at the Lodi Road crematorium Friday morning. And according to what she stood for, all religious prayers will be chanted,” said a close associate.

The diminutive Deshpande, a familiar figure who accompanied visiting presidents, prime ministers and other dignitaries at Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial Raj Ghat, started her career as a lecturer in political science at Nagpur’s Morris College.

She was born in Nagpur on Oct 17, 1929 to Vimlabai and P.Y. Deshpande, who was also a MP.

President Pratibha Patil, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mourned the death of the veteran Gandhian. The prime minister called her a leader of the people who led by example.

In a lengthy condolence message, Prime Minister Singh said: “Nirmalaji was a living Gandhian. She dedicated her life to the cause of the poor, the downtrodden and the marginalized in our society, as a true Gandhian.

“She was deeply committed to creating a good society based on Gandhian values of simplicity, decency and honesty. She was a leader of the people and she led by example.”

Deshpande, who joined Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s ‘bhoodan’ movement in 1952 and undertook a 40,000 km walk with him, had been nominated twice to the Rajya Sabha — in 1997 and in 2004. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

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