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CHENNAI: J Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu’s beloved Amma (mother), was buried on Tuesday evening on Chennai’s Marina Beach, with lakhs gathered and united in an immense but peaceful show of grief.

A red carpet was laid around the grave where her coffin, made of sandalwood, was lowered just after sunset. Around it stood some of the country’s most powerful leaders. Outside, the roads were grid-locked with people who wanted one final glimpse at the iconic Iron Lady. “Amma Vazhga” they chanted (long live Amma).

As far as the eye could see, they stood. Women broke into wails, clutching their chests in mourning. Some said they had walked between seven and ten kilometres.

An era ended as J Jayalalithaa was lowered into the ground in a sandalwood casket next to the memorial of her mentor, MG Ramachandran or MGR at Chennai’s Marina Beach on Tuesday evening. Last rites were performed by the politician’s long-time companion Sasikala Natarajan, who also received the national flag that had draped Ms Jayalalithaa’s body. The former chief minister was buried with full state honours. Ms Jayalalithaa, 68, died at 11.30 on Monday night, after a huge cardiac arrest the day before.

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Thousands lined the route as Ms Jayalalithaa’s body was taken to Marina Beachon an Army truck in a slow procession. It took over an hour to cover the three kilometres from Rajaji Hall, a public auditorium in Chennai where Ms Jayalalithaa’s body lay in state all day.

Lakhs of people packed the large grounds of Rajaji Hall and grown men and women wept in grief as they attempted to reach the body of their beloved Amma or mother as Ms Jayalalithaa was fondly known to her millions of supporters.

Sasikala Natarajan, dressed in black, was near Ms Jayalalithaa’s body all day and rode in the hearse to Marina Beach. At Rajaji Hall both she and O Panneerselvam, who took oath on Tuesday early morning at 1.30 AM  as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, were consoled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited Chennai to pay his respects to Ms Jayalalithaa.

PM Modi flew in a chopper to Rajaji Hall from the Chennai airport. President Pranab Mukherjee too paid tribute to Ms Jayalalithaa. His arrival in Chennai was delayed by a technical snag in his plane.

Chief Ministers of eight states like Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal and Akhilesh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh, and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi were among many top political leaders who attended Ms Jayalalithaa’s funeral. Thousands of supporters were also present.

J Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, has died at Chennai’s Apollo Hospital. Ms Jayalalithaa, who had a cardiac arrest on Sunday evening, died at 11.30 pm Monday, the hospital said she was 68.

In a statement, the hospital said “Despite our best efforts the Honourable Chief Minister’s underlying conditions rendered her unable to recover and she passed away at 11:30 pm.”

In huge relief for the administration, there has been no violence since the news of Ms Jayalalithaa’s death. For lakhs whose devotion to her bordered on the religious, self-harming shows of loyalty were not uncommon. Ms Jayalalithaa died at Apollo Hospital, where she was admitted on September 22 with complaints of fever and dehydration. Her condition soon worsened and she was treated for a serious lung ailment. For many weeks, she was on support systems in the Intensive Care section.

 J Jayalalithaa’s close companion Sasikala Natarajan, always her faithful shadow, remained firmly by her side on Tuesday as lakhs streamed into a public hall in Chennai to pay their last respects to the four-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

Sasikala’s family members flanked the body, not any leader of Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK or even her loyalist O Panneerselvam, who kept her photo on the dais as he took oath as Chief Minister late last night.

The dominating presence of Sasikala, in a black sari and red-rimmed eyes, was seen by many as symbolic of the power that the former video store owner enjoyed for decades as the other occupant of Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden home in Chennai.

By dint of that association, Sasikala, 59, is emerging from the background as a key figure in Tamil Nadu politics. Sources say she or a person of her choice could take over as the general secretary of the party – essential for her to retain her grip on power.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugged new Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam as the latter wept inconsolably when the Prime Minister visited Chennai’s Rajaji Hall, a large public auditorium where J Jayalalithaa’s body was placed for people to pay their respects before she was burried at Chennai’s Marina beach near her political mentor MGR.

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PM Modi was also seen patting Ms Jayalalithaa’s long-time companion Sasikala Natarajan on the head. Ms Natarajan too broke down and PM Modi consoled her, stopping for a few minutes to talk to her.

The Prime Minister landed in Chennai a little after noon and flew to the hall in a chopper. As he paid his respects to Ms Jayalalithaa and laid a wreath, Mr Panneerselvam, who was by the PM’s side broke down. PM Modi affectionately patted him and suggested that he be strong.

When PM Modi was walking back to his vehicle, Mr Panneerselvam hugged him with tears in his eyes.

 O Panneerselvam took oath as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister at around 1.15 am on Tuesday, a few hours after his party chief J Jayalalithaa died at Chennai’s Apollo Hospital. He placed Ms Jayalalithaa’s photograph on the dais before taking oath and after being sworn in, put the picture into his pocket. 31 other ministers were sworn in along with him at the state’s Raj Bhawan or Governor’s residence, all of them members of the previous Jayalalithaa cabinet.

But this part of the succession plan may not be as smooth as Panneerselvam’s appointment, for which party leaders projected a united front.Sasikala has never held a post either in the government or the party – and that is how Jayalalithaa kept it for three decades, even though she confided in her and relied on her for advice.

Security was tight when the Prime Minister visited Rajaji Hall, but there were tense moments when a crowd of people surged forward to get a better glimpse of him. PM Modi greeted them with folded hands and was seen requesting people not to take photographs on their mobile phones.

President Pranab Mukherjee also paid respects to Ms Jayalalithaa in Chennai. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and at least eight Chief Ministers, including Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal, also attended the funeral.

The iconic leader’s body was taken first to her Poes Garden residence in Chennai and then, very early in the morning, to the city’s Rajaji Hall, where it is now kept for people to pay tribute. Tamil Nadu has declared a seven day morning and schools and colleges will be closed for three days.

Ms Jayalalithaa was revered especially by the rural poor for the vast amount of giveaways she provided – mixer-grinders, laptops – ahead of elections. In recent years, her government introduced the Amma brand of massively subsidised water, canteens and medicines which endeared her further to the poor, while stressing the state’s finances.

Ms Jayalalithaa was revered especially by the rural poor for the vast amount of giveaways she provided – mixer-grinders, laptops – ahead of elections. In recent years, her government introduced the Amma brand of massively subsidised water, canteens and medicines which endeared her further to the poor, while stressing the state’s finances.

Earlier this year, Ms Jayalalithaa beat a nearly three-decade-long tradition to be re-elected as Chief Minister, her fourth term. Before that, Tamil Nadu alternated between choosing Ms Jayalalithaa and political adversary, the DMK.

 

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