Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa dies at 68

Well wishers of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaraman hold her portrait as they pray at a temple in Mumbai, India, December 5, 2016. (Reuters)

Tens of hundreds of mourners started filing past the flower-bedecked body of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa early Tuesday as Tamil Nadu mourned the death of one of its most popular and charismatic leaders who passed away overnight at the age of 68.
Draped in the Tricolour, the body of the AIADMK leader was kept at the Rajaji Hall, a British-era building in Chennai, where teary-eyed people paid homage to the six-time chief minister.

The government said the cremation of Jayalalithaa – popularly known as “Amma” -- will take place at 4.30 pm near the iconic Marina beach, at the memorial site of her mentor and former chief minister MG Ramachandran.

The state government declared a seven-day mourning period beginning Tuesday. Schools, colleges, offices and businesses were to be closed for the next three days, which have been designated a public holiday in the state.

Jayalalithaa will be accorded a state funeral. Flags will be flown at half mast. The Centre has declared a one-day mourning at the chief minister’s demise.

Draped in her favourite green colour saree, Jayalalithaa’s body was taken from her Poes Garden residence to Rajaji Hall where hundreds and thousands of supporters queued up to have a last glimpse of the powerful leader, nicknamed ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ (revolutionary leader).

As the casket carrying the body was placed on the steps of Rajaji Hall, in the heart of the city off arterial Anna Salai, four armymen covered it with the Tricolour.

Chief minister O Panneerselvam and his ministerial colleagues, MPs and MLAs and senior state government officials were among the first to pay homage to Jayalalithaa, who passed away at the Apollo Hospitals at 11.30 last night after waging a grim battle for life since her hospitalisation on September 22.

Her long time confidante Sasikala Natarajan was by the casket. Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu also paid his last respect.

TN grieves

“Our beloved leader, The Iron Lady of India ... is no more,” tweeted her AIADMK party, the third-largest party the Lok Sabha, on Monday night, drawing howls of grief and tears from the crowd of supporters outside the hospital. Rumours earlier in the evening that she had died, which proved to be false, led to brief unrest.

Television visuals showed supporters of the filmstar-turned-politician wailing on the streets and beating their chests in a spontaneous outpouring of grief among millions whose life she touched in her three-decade-long public career.

Security was tightened across the state to prevent a repeat of the looting and rioting across Tamil Nadu when her mentor MG Ramachandran died in 1987. Her supporters are also known to commit suicide at any bad news about her.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes, tweeting that Jayalalithaa’s death had left a huge void in Indian politics.

“Jayalalithaa ji’s connect with the citizens, concern for welfare of the poor, the women and marginalized will always be a source of inspiration,” Modi said.

Cult following

Aloof and powerful, Jayalalithaa had a cult following among the people of Tamil Nadu that endured even though she went to jail for corruption more than once.

She began a film career at 16 and rose to stardom with dozens of hit Tamil films, often with her screen partner MG Ramachandran, also an actor-turned politician who then served three terms as chief minister of the state.

With voters ready to confer god-like status on their matinee idols, she also went into politics and trumped her mentor by serving six times as head of the state.

Jayalalithaa leaves behind a legacy of populist schemes, including giving away free cellphones, laptops and kitchen grinders that endeared her to millions of voters. She also drew foreign investors to India’s second largest state economy.

She defended the giveaways as welfare measures aimed at helping the poor. She herself was known for leading an extravagant lifestyle.

In 1997, police found more than 10,000 saris and 750 pairs of shoes after raiding her home as part of a corruption investigation.

In 2014, she was forced to step down as chief minister when she was sentenced to four years in prison for amassing assets disproportionate to her known source of income.

She spent 21 days behind bars before the Indian Supreme Court released her on bail.

In May 2015, an appeals court overturned the corruption charges, clearing the way for her return to power. She returned to office as chief minister on May 23 and a month later was re-elected in a by-election.

Jayalalithaa was born in 1948 in the village of Melukote, in what is now the state of Karnataka. Her birth name was Jayalalitha, but she reportedly added an ‘a’ on advice from a numerologist.

Her lawyer father, also named Jayaram, died when she was 2, prompting her mother to learn shorthand and typing so she could work in a clerical position to support the family and put Jayalalithaa and her brother through school. Her brother died in the early 1990s.
Source - Hindustan Times

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