J Jayalalitha: Why ailing leader has Indian state on edge

Sunday, 9 October 2016

India’s Tamil Nadu state is awash with rumours about Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalitha, about whose health little has been heard since she was taken to hospital two weeks ago, reports TS Sudhir. An elderly man is hanging from a crane, hooks pierced through the skin on his back. In his hand, he is holding a picture of his beloved leader, who is sick and in hospital.

In “sharing” his leader’s pain, the man says, he is praying for her speedy recovery.

Elsewhere, in the southern Indian city of Chennai (Madras), men and women huddle in groups and pray outside the Apollo Hospital, where Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalitha is being treated. Across the city, workers belonging to her AIADMK party eat food off a temple floor and offer prayers for their leader’s health.

And in what many say is a shocking display of worship and obeisance, children with their cheeks pierced with metal arrows and foreheads smeared with holy ash pray for Amma (mother), as she is popularly known.

‘Outlet for emotions’

“People feel a lot for Amma. All this is an outlet for all those emotions,” says Vetrivel, an AIADMK lawmaker.

Jayaram Jayalalitha, one of India’s most powerful and controversial politicians, was admitted to hospital on 22 September.

Initially, the doctors said the 68-year-old was receiving treatment for “fever and dehydration”. She was placed under observation and her diet was monitored.

After three anodyne bulletins, the doctors said in a release on 3 October that she was on “respiratory support” and was being administered antibiotics. A British doctor specialising in critical care treatment was flown in to examine her.

The lack of what many say is adequate and credible information on the leader’s health is triggering a tsunami of rumour-mongering, mostly over social media.