Grief-stricken fans on Tuesday mourned the death of one of India’s most popular politicians, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, as fears of unrest loomed in her state where she enjoyed almost god-like status.
The 68-year-old former film star was known simply as Amma, or mother, in her native Tamil Nadu where she remained wildly popular despite allegations of corruption, which saw her briefly jailed twice.
Famed for a vast sari collection that won her comparisons with Imelda Marcos, Jayalalithaa was also one of India’s most polarising politicians, seen by some as an autocratic and secretive leader.
But nothing could dent her popularity in Tamil Nadu, where she served three terms as chief minister during which it became one of India’s most prosperous states.
“Our beloved leader, the Iron lady of India... Amma, is no more,” her political party, AIADMK, said on Twitter.
Her body was put on display at a public hall in an open casket, wrapped in an India flag, as thousands of followers began to file past to pay their final respects from early morning.
Several of the mourners could be seen breaking down in tears as they filed past the coffin in the state capital Chennai, according to television images.
Hundreds of devotees had kept a round-the-clock vigil outside the private hospital in Chennai - the city formerly known as Madras - since she was first admitted in September suffering from a fever.
When she first fell ill one supporter set himself on fire, while an elderly man suspended himself from a crane with steel hooks pierced through his skin.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is to head to Chennai later in the day, offered his condolences.
“I will always cherish the innumerable occasions when I had the opportunity to interact with Jayalalithaa ji (honorific). May her soul rest in peace,” Modi said on Twitter.
The southern state had been tense since Sunday after reports that her health had worsened and she had been put on life support.
Earlier on Monday, scuffles broke out outside the hospital as many from the thousands of her supporters who had gathered outside tried to break through the police barricades.
Images on Indian news channels from across Chennai showed many men and women crying after her death was finally confirmed.
When her political mentor and former on-screen love interest M. G. Ramachandran died in 1987, riots and looting broke out across the state.
Ahead of Jayalalithaa’s death, police and security presence had been beefed up across Tamil Nadu over fears of chaos from her emotional followers.
Jayalalithaa had earned the loyalty of many voters with a series of populist schemes, including “Amma canteens” that provided lunch for just three rupees (five cents) and vast election-time giveaways that ranged from laptops to kitchen appliances.
Several of her supporters resorted to self-harm when she was briefly jailed in 2014 on charges of corruption.
Her conviction, later overturned on appeal, sparked mass protests and even some reported suicides.
Thousands of directors, actors and producers in the successful Tamil language film industry went on hunger strike to demand her release.
Jayalalithaa’s death has plunged one of India’s most economically powerful states into a period of political uncertainty.
Her trusted cabinet aide, O Panneerselvam, was sworn-in as the chief minister, but observers worry whether a loyalist, without real charisma or mass support, will be able to rule smoothly.
After midnight, thousands of people lined both sides of the roads in Chennai trying to catch a glimpse of the late leader as her body was taken from the hospital to her residence in another part of the city.
Tributes continue to pour in
Tributes continued to pour in for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa with DMK chief M Karunanidhi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar among others condoling her death.
Expressing condolences, Karunanidhi said Jayalalithaa had passed away amid expectations that she will return home after receiving medical care from renowned specialists.
There may have been many differences of opinion between DMK and AIADMK but there can be no doubts she “bravely” worked for her partymen’s welfare, he said in a statement.
“Although she might have died at a young age (68), there is no doubt that her fame will remain forever,” he said.
Recalling Jayalalithaa’s film career, Karunanidhi said she had paired with matinee idol MG Ramachandran who later groomed her in politics after founding AIADMK.
Expressing grief over Jayalalithaa’s death, Parikkar said in a Twitter post: “I express my condolences on the passing away of TN CM J Jayalalithaa. I pray for strength to the people of Tamil Nadu at this sad hour.”
HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar said Jayalalithaa had created ‘Brand Amma,’ politics of catering to the poor.
She had “created Brand Amma, a different kind of pro-poor politics. My heartfelt condolences,” he said.
In her twitter message, Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi said Jayalalithaa was a “very brave woman who lived several lives within one life completely on her own terms. Amma will live beyond hers.”
“Amma has moved over from time to eternity by the courage and determination with which she lived life on her own terms,” she said.
TNCC President Su Thirunavukkarasar also paid rich tributes to Jayalalithaa. A former associate of the late leader in his days in AIADMK, Thirunavukkarasar said Jayalalithaa enjoyed the love and affection of woman folk.
DMDK founder Vijayakant, Congress leader Karti P Chidambaram and AINRC MP from Puducherry R Radhakrishnan also condoled the death.
Expressing shock, popular Tamil actor Ajith Kumar said: “She had fought many battles and stood tall among the leaders of our times,” he said.
Tamil Nadu declares holiday for its offices
Tamil Nadu government has announced Tuesday as a holiday for its offices under the Negotiable Instruments Act, as a mark of respect to late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
A Government Order (GO) said the notified public holiday will apply to all state government offices, undertakings, corporations and boards.
Kerala announces holiday
Kerala announced a holiday on Tuesday to mourn the demise of Jayalalithaa. All government offices and educational institutions will remain closed.
Tried best to save Jayalalithaa: Apollo
Apollo Hospitals said despite the best possible treatment given to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, she was unable to recover after a massive cardiac arrest.
In a statement released after Jayalalithaa died on Monday night, the hospital, where she was admitted on September 22, said its doctors and paramedical staff “strived hard to provide the highest standards of care” to her.
The statement said Jayalalithaa earlier “responded well” to the treatment and “subsequently recovered substantially to be able to take food orally”.
“On this basis, (the) Chief Minister was shifted from the advanced Critical Care Unit to the High Dependency Unit, where her health and vitals continued to improve under the close monitoring of our expert panel of specialists.”
This was before Jayalalithaa suffered a massive cardiac arrest on Sunday evening.
She was given resuscitation and provided life support system of “extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)” -- the most advanced treatment currently available internationally for patients who suffer a cardiac arrest, the hospital said.
“Every possible clinical attempt was made to sustain her revival. However, despite our best efforts the Chief Minister’s underlying conditions rendered her unable to recover and she passed away.”
Jayalalithaa’s body was first taken to her Poes Garden residence in the early hours and then brought to the Rajaji Hall. The funeral will take place at 4.30 pm at the Dr MGR Memorial site off Marina beach, the state government said in an official communication.
Source: Gulf News