Jayalalithaa Jayaram.—AFP
Jayalalithaa Jayaram.—AFP

CHENNAI: Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the chief minister of southern India’s Tamil Nadu state and one of the country’s most popular political leaders, died after a prolonged illness on Monday night.

“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 (Dec 5),” Chennai’s Apollo Hospital said in a statement.

Jayalalithaa enjoys an almost god-like status in Tamil Nadu.

Hundreds of devotees kept a round-the-clock vigil outside the private hospital in the state capital Chennai since she was first admitted in September suffering from a fever. Their numbers swelled since her condition worsened on Sunday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences over her demise.

“I will always cherish the innumerable occasions when I had the opportunity to interact with Jayalalithaa ji. May her soul rest in peace,” Mr Modi said on Twitter.

Her political party, AIADMK, said on Twitter: “Our beloved leader, the iron lady of India...Amma, is no more.”

To millions of her followers, the chief minister was known simply as Amma (mother).

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.

Jayalalithaa had earned the loyalty of many voters in the state with a series of highly populist schemes, including “Amma canteens” that provided lunch for just three rupees.

She was also one of the country’s most polarising politicians, accused of being dictatorial and was even jailed for corruption.

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.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2016

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