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Mass outpouring of grief over charismatic Indian politician Jayalalithaa’s death

amil Nadu names successor

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CHENNAI, India - Thousands of supporters bid an emotional farewell to Indian politician Jayalalithaa, the "Amma" of millions, on Tuesday, who died late Monday night after suffering a massive cardiac arrest during the weekend following a long period of ill health.> BNN

Although she was jailed twice on corruption charges, the late chief minister of Tamil Nadu remained a popular and highly revered figure till her death, inspiring a cult-like devotion among party elites as well as ordinary citizens - her loyalists even threatened to immolate themselves or lie down in streets for buses to run them over, when she was in jail.

Jayalalithaa's body is being cremated with full state honours on Tuesday evening near her mentor M.G. Ramachandran's (MGR) memorial at Marina Beach.

Several leading politicians, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reached state capital Chennai to pay their last respects, while streams of supporters lined up outside a hall in the centre of the city where her tri-colour draped casket was put on display.

Modi laid a floral wreath on Jayalalithaa's body and consoled Jayalalithaa's successor Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam and her close confidante Sasikala Natarajan.

India President Pranab Mukerjee and Congress president Sonia Gandhi also paid rich tributes to the 68-year-old leader.

The President called Jayalalithaa “one of India’s most charismatic and popular leaders” and a “visionary and able administrator.”

In a rare gesture, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan announced that the Lok Sabha will be adjourned for the day. 

“She was a true leader of the masses. The country has lost a highly popular, courageous and prominent leader,” she said.

Senior leaders of the ruling party, the BJP, several Indian chief ministers, regional leaders and actors also joined in condoling her demise.

Despite India's deeply patriarchal political system, Jayalalithaa was credited with developing her state and helping the rural poor.

"At any given point in time, I did what had to be done," she once said in a television interview. "I never stopped to think whether I'm a man or a woman. . . . I felt I had to do this, I did it, I did whatever I felt was right."

Her state has low infant and maternal mortality rates, among other positive health markers, but is struggling with debt because of social programs such as Amma canteens.

Her party, the AIADMK, became a major force in India’s Parliament during her tenure. In 2014 countrywide elections, it emerged as the second-largest national opposition party, narrowly trailing the Congress party.

Jayalalithaa the actor

The daughter of an actress in Tamil-language films, Jayalalithaa’s first career was in show business. She featured in more than 100 movies, which catapulted her to fame before she turned to the political arena in the 1980s, serving as chief minister of her state four times.

Her first association with celluloid came in the form of English film, Epistle, directed by Shankar Giri, at the age of 12.

She did several films thereafter. But it was her pairing with the charismatic MG Ramachandran (MGR) in the film Ayirathil Oruvan that created true magic and the pair eventually went on create history, working together in 28 films.

Many of her movies with MGR - Adimai Penn, Kavalkaran, Raman Thediya Seethai and Thedi Vanda Mappillai - are timeless and memorable even today.

Reminiscing about the old days, Malayalam actress Sheela, a former colleague of Jayalalithaa revealed some personal details about the "iron lady."

“She and I used to sneak out covering our faces to watch second show movies. After the movie, we used to go and have falooda at her favorite stall by the roadside. She loved faloodas…” she recalled.

She also remembered Jayalalithaa as an "intelligent lady". "She was one person who loved to read all the time. I believe that Jayalalithaa is the most intelligent person ever – she was brilliant,” she said.

Rivalry

AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa and DMK chief Karunanidhi, who also offered his condolences today, shared a bitter rivalry over the last several decades.

The two were fierce adversaries, opposing titans in Dravidian politics, post the MGR era. 

But despite the acrimonious history, Karunaidhi in his statement today said, “I offer deep condolences on the passing away of Jayalalithaa, wishes of lakhs of her followers will make her immortal

Similar words were resonated by his son and DMK leader M.K. Stalin who said: “Deeply saddened by the demise of our CM Selvi Jayalalithaa. My deepest condolences to the party cadres & well wishers in this hour of grief.”

Some of the darkest periods in Jayalalithaa's political career were accompanied by targeted attacks by the DMK.

In 1989, during an assembly session when Karunanidhi was presenting the state budget and Jayalalithaa was the leader of Opposition in the house, DMK leader Durai Murugan was alleged to have indulged in an act of misconduct in the house.

Amma's successor

While the state is currently united in remembrance and grief, her death leaves Tamil politics topsy-turvy. 

The party has anointed loyalist and state finance minister O.P. Panneerselvam as her successor, it will have to, however, be seen if the party can survive without its most charismatic figure.

The loyalist had stood in for Jayalalithaa in the past, but made it clear he was not replacing her. He declined to take her place at the head of the cabinet table while she was ill and instead had her picture placed there.

His rise to the top job in Tamil Nadu would help allay fears of a power struggle in the AIADMK, albeit temporarily, built entirely around the cult of Jayalalithaa.

Tollywood, Mollywood, Bollywood mourn demise

Actors across the country mourned her death.

"Deeply saddened at the loss of J Jayalalithaa garu. May her family and the whole of Tamil Nadu find strength at this time," Mahesh Babu tweeted.

"#Ripamma Great era comes to an end.But her majestic charisma and determination will continue to live and inspire many women in our country," Jr NTR posed.

"I remember my father speaking with great respect and fondness whenever he spoke of Jayalalitha Ji/May her Soul rest in peace," Nagarjuna wrote.

Amitabh Bachchan tweeted, "Jayalalitha ji the only CM of a State that celebrated 100 years of Indian Cinema .. from all regions .. most admirable!" along with a few photos of himself with Jayalalithaa during a celebration of 100 years of Indian Cinema in Chennai.

And Shah Rukh posted, "Sad to hear of the passing away of Jayalalithaaji...May her soul rest in peace.."

Chennai comes to a halt

The city came to a standstill on Tuesday, with shops, restaurants and offices all downing their shutters following Jayalalithaa's death.

Public transport services, including autorickshaws, were off the roads and only some private vehicles were seen plying in various parts of the city where police personnel kept a tight vigil at vantage points.

A near total shutdown like situation prevailed in the city and several other parts of the state since last evening itself.

The late leader's body was lying in state at Rajaji Hall through the date to enable public pay their homage.

The state government has declared a holiday today for its offices and three-days for educational institutions as a mark of respect to the departed leader.

Meanwhile, the Tamil film industry announced cancellation of shootings scheduled for today. Theaters also cancelled shows.

Puducherry declares three-day mourning

The Puducherry government has declared three-day state mourning with effect from Tuesday as a mark of respect to the late Tamil Nadu chief minister.

The national flag will be flown at half-mast for three days from December 6 throughout Union territory on all the buildings where it is flown regularly and there shall be no official entertainment during the period of state mourning as a mark of respect to the departed leader. The government declared Tuesday as a public holiday.

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