India on Tuesday mourned the death of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi joining hundreds of thousands to pay their last respects to the iconic leader.
Modi walked up with folded hands to the tricolour-draped body at the Rajaji Hall, where a sea of wailing mourners have gathered to view their leader one last time.
A blanket of grief enveloped the sprawling southern state since Jayalalithaa — “Amma” to her passionate followers — was pronounced dead just before midnight on Monday, ending an era in Tamil politics.
According to rough estimates, around 10 lakh people had gathered at the Rajaji Hall by Tuesday afternoon to pay their homage to Jayalalithaa, who was in her fifth term as Chief Minister when she died.
Modi took a helicopter to reach the venue after flying down from Delhi. He laid a floral wreath at the remains of the dead leader, who catapulted from silver screen to emerge as one of India’s most popular leaders.
Across the country, political stalwarts noted how the AIADMK chief had unleashed numerous pro-poor schemes as Chief Minister of 78 million people in the state.
There were dramatic displays of emotion, with people wailing inconsolably and beating their chests and heads. There were loud cries of “Amma, Amma”.
Thousands of security personnel were deployed across Tamil Nadu amid fears of self-harming protests by her fans.
But the state was peaceful. At the Rajaji Hall, the serpentine queues were largely orderly.
Normal life was affected in the state. While supplies of essential items were not obstructed, few vehicles plied on the nearly deserted roads of Chennai.
Tamil Nadu has declared a week-long mourning, during which schools and colleges will be shut for three days. No state transport corporation buses plied on Tuesday and millions stayed indoors.
Jayalalithaa’s body was taken to her residence at Poes Garden shortly after midnight on Monday, hours after she was declared dead at the Apollo Hospitals following a 74-day battle for life.
Jayalalithaa’s relatives as well as AIADMK MLAs and MPs were at the Rajaji Hall.
Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting M. Venkaiah Naidu, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, state Congress President S. Thirunavukarasar, movie stars Rajinikanth, Prabhu, Sathyaraj, Gautami and Y.G. Mahendran visited the hall.
So did DMK leader M.K. Stalin.
The central government also announced a day of mourning as a mark of respect.
Jayalalithaa will be given a funeral with state honours later Tuesday at the Marina beach with a string of national leaders in attendance.
US Ambassador Richard Verma mourned her death.
“On behalf of the US, I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Jayalalithaa and the people of Tamil Nadu,” Verma said.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said he was saddened by her death and noted that she had a “towering presence in Indian politics”. Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu are separated by a strip of sea.