Jayalalithaa Jayaraman, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and one of India’s most popular political leaders, has died at a hospital in Chennai, nearly three months after she was admitted there.
68-year-old Jayalalithaa went into cardiac arrest on Sunday night, her condition deteriorating sharply after her admission with a severe respiratory ailment in September, said the Apollo Hospital in Chennai where she was admitted.
But the Apollo Hospital announced in a press release on Monday that Jayalalithaa has passed away after 74 days of hospitalisation.
“It is with indescribable grief, we announce the sad demise of our esteemed honourable chief minister of Tamil Nadu … at 11:30pm (local time) today (December 5),” Chennai’s Apollo Hospital said in a statement released to the media.
The mortal remains of the hugely popular former actress would be taken to Poes Garden first and after completion of rituals would be taken to Rajaji Hall on Tuesday, Indian media said.
Earlier on Monday, the hospital said she was on life support systems as authorities in the southern state increased security around Chennai to prevent her worried supporters from creating public disorder.
Popularly known as “Amma”, or “Mother” in the Tamil language, the 68-year-old was introduced to politics by her cinema screen partner, M. G. Ramachandran, another actor-turned politician, and went on to serve as chief minister of Tamil Nadu five times.
Jayalalithaa remained hugely popular despite being jailed more than once for corruption.
The reclusive leader ran her party with an iron hand with no clear line of succession to govern a state that is home to major auto and IT outsourcing firms.
During her latest illness, her picture was put in a chair at the head of the table at state cabinet meetings.
About 2,000 policemen were deployed around the hospital in case emotional crowds of devoted supporters reacted strongly to further developments.
Supporters have been known to commit suicide in reaction to bad news. Jayalalithaa’s ministers have on occasions been seen to prostrate themselves at her feet.
“There is no second line of defence here, and these are emotive times. There is a chance of violence,” said T.R. Ramachandran, an independent expert on Tamil Nadu politics.
The AIADMK and its bitter rival, the DMK, are the main parties in Tamil Nadu, and both are built around a personality cult of their leaders who are drawn from the Tamil film industry.
India’s two national parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress have little political presence in the state, despite decades of efforts.
The death of Ramachandran, or MGR as Jayalalithaa’s mentor was known, sparked looting and rioting across Tamil Nadu by his grief-stricken supporters in 1987.