Rajya Sabha MP Nirmala Deshpande dead

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New Delhi, May 1 (UNI) Celebrated Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande, who spent an entire lifetime espousing grassroots causes and communal harmony, died in sleep here early this morning.

She was 78.

Deshpande, a nominated member to the Rajya Sabha, had attended Committee meetings in Parliament till last evening. She was doing well and had travelled to Jharkhand and Bihar only last week, said Peter Parikketal, a close associate.

She was unmarried and is survived by her sister. Her father P Y Deshpande was a known Marathi writer.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, BJP leaders L K Advani and Rajnath Singh, Union Ministers Lalu Prasad, Jaipal Reddy, Sriprakash Jaiswal, Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit, congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Pakistan High Commissioner Shahid Malik and Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yan were among the first to pay their respects.

The cremation is likely to take place tomorrow morning, after her sister arrives here from Pune.

Born on October 17, 1929 in Nagpur, Deshpande had made her foray into social work in 1952, when she joined Vinoba Bhave to traverse 40,000 kms across the country during the Bhoodan movement.

Her commitment to secular values was as strong years later, when she organised peace marches in Orissa after the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and in the militancy-ridden states of Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. She had also led a Satyagraha on the Indo-Tibet border in 1997.

Popularly known as 'Didi', she always remained an icon for grassroots workers. She stayed away from electoral politics till the end.

She was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1997 and again in 2004.

Among the honours conferred on her, Deshpande recieved Padma Vibhushan in 2006 and was also conferred the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award for promoting peace and communal harmony.

She has also written several books, prominent among them being Vinobake Sath, Kranti Ki Rah Par,Chingling, Seemant and Vinoba. She has also written novels, plays, travelogues and commentary on Isha Upanishad and was the Editor, Nityanutan (a Hindi fortnightly).

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