Six-time Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, a 1960s screen idol who became one of India’s most powerful politicians, died in a Chennai hospital on Monday, according to local television reports.
She was 68.
Jayalalithaa’s health remained critical throughout Monday as doctors struggled to help her recover from a cardiac arrest on Sunday evening. The chief minister had been put on life support systems.
Earlier on Sunday, her party, the ruling AIADMK, announced that she was given a clean bill of health by a team of medical specialists. However, shortly after, she was moved to the critical care unit (CCU) of Apollo Hospital following the cardiac arrest.
An angioplasty had been performed on Monday morning to repair her blood vessels.
Thousands of followers, who began gathering around the hospital since Sunday evening, wept at the passing away of their “Amma” or mother, as she was endearingly called.
The chief minister was admitted to Apollo hospital late on September 22 with complaints of fever and dehydration.
Jayalalithaa had been unwell for some time now, but the exact nature of her medical condition had remained shrouded in mystery until she suffered the fatal cardiac arrest.
According to an affidavit in 2014, she suffered from hypertension, cellulitis, and diabetes.
A source at Apollo Hospital said the AIADMK chief was on ventilator support during her final days.
Jayalalithaa’s death comes months after she won an unprecedented sixth term in the assembly polls, defeating rival M Karunanidhi’s DMK.
Her demise is expected to leave her party in chaos as she has designated no clear successor and polls are usually won on the back of her personal popularity.
Born to a Tamil Brahmin family in the town of Melukote in Karnataka on February 24, 1948, she made her mark as an actress in a career that encompassed more than 300 movies in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Hindi.
It was as an actress that she first met AIADMK founder and charismatic chief minister MG Ramachandran, who mentored her as his political protégé. After he died, the ADMK splintered, with one faction supporting Jayalalithaa, and the other his wife, Janaki.
Jayalalithaa managed to unite the two halves to form the AIADMK in 1989, and stormed to power as CM in 1991, a few days after the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Her political legacy is one of strength, opportunism, and guile. Over her political career she came to dominate Tamil Nadu politics in a manner unseen since the heyday of her mentor, MGR, bucking a trend of anti-incumbency to make history in 2016.
Critics, including bitter rival Karunanidhi, whose ambitions to be chief minister were thwarted many times by Jayalalithaa, said she fostered a freebie culture in Tamil Nadu, as well as a cult of personality after she rebranded herself successfully as Amma — Tamil for mother — and launched a plethora of welfare schemes under her name.