CHENNAI: J Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and one of India’s most powerful and popular politicians, died on Monday in a Chennai hospital, nearly three months after she was admitted there. She was 68.
Ms Jayalalithaa had a cardiac arrest on Sunday evening and was rushed back to the Intensive Care Unit or ICU. Barely two weeks ago, after doctors and her party said she was fully recovered from a respiratory illness, she was moved from the critical care unit to a private room kitted out with emergency equipment.
Just hours before her cardiac arrest, Ms Jayalalithaa’s party, the AIADMK, said she would soon decide when to return home. This morning, a party spokesperson said that she was improved after a heart procedure. Both claims were denied later by Apollo, reflecting a pattern of the hospital and party offering divergent views of her condition, with the AIADMK skewing towards an exaggeratedly optimistic appraisal.
However, on November 20, in the clearest sign that they believed she was no longer in danger, doctors said Ms Jayalalithaa had been relocated from the Intensive Care Unit. They also said she was speaking and was alert. Her party said she was directing important decisions from hospital including on a water dispute with neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Throughout, there was no comment from Ms Jayalalithaa’s closest companion, Sasikala Natarajan, who has cohabitated with the Chief Minister for years.
When the Chief Minister was first hospitalised in September, her party said it was for dehydration and fever. It soon became clear that her illness was far more serious. She spent weeks on respiratory support, with specialists arriving from London and Delhi to monitor her. The rolodex of VIPs that visited hospital to check on her included Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and senior union ministers.
For the centre and her own government, an over-riding concern apart from her health was the drafting of a contingency plan to prevent riots if her health deteriorated. Known as “Amma” or “mother” to lakhs of supporters, Ms Jayalalithaa’s incredible popularity was often worryingly exhibited through dramatic fans prone to self-harm and violent attacks on public property when things went against her.