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Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa’s funeral procession from Rajaji Hall to Marina Beach in Chennai on Tuesday. Photo: PTI
Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa’s funeral procession from Rajaji Hall to Marina Beach in Chennai on Tuesday. Photo: PTI

India mourns Jayalalithaa’s death

Tamil Nadu chief minister was laid to rest near the memorial of her mentor MGR in Chennai's Marina Beach

Chennai/Bengaluru: Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa was laid to rest near the memorial of her mentor M.G. Ramachandran in Chennai’s Marina Beach on Tuesday, as hundreds of thousands gathered for a final glimpse of the woman they called Amma (mother).

Unusually for a Hindu, the Tamil leader was buried, her body, clad in a green sari, placed in a sandalwood casket that had been draped in the national Tricolour before being lowered.

Many national leaders, including the Bharatiya Janata Party’s M. Venkaiah Naidu and Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, were among those who watched the last rites, conducted by Jayalalithaa’s long-time aide Sasikala Natarajan.

ALSO READ | How the Tamil Nadu economy fared under Jayalalithaa

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid his last respects at Rajaji Hall, where the body lay in state, and consoled O. Panneerselvam, who will succeed Jayalalithaa as chief minister, and Natarajan.

Jayalalithaa, who died on Monday night after suffering a cardiac arrest at age 68, was buried with full state honours after being brought from Rajaji Hall in an Army truck along a route lined by hundreds of thousands of supporters.

“Puratchi Thalaivi (Revolutionary Leader) is our God. When can we see her again," said a sobbing party worker of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), who was at the funeral.

ALSO READ | Karnataka tense after Jayalalithaa’s death

Tuesday’s state funeral, which included a 21-gun salute, was attended by people from all walks of life, a testament to the adulation she enjoyed among the masses, many of whom perched on tree tops and mobile towers to catch a glimpse of their leader.

Flags flew at half mast, as fans of the movie star-turned politician chanted, “Long live Amma."

AIADMK legislators led an orderly procession from Rajaji Hall, where her body had been kept since the morning, to Marina Beach, in line with practice—the bodies of chief ministers K. Kamaraj and M.G.Ramachandran were also kept at Rajaji Hall before their funerals. The state is observing seven days of mourning beginning Tuesday.

Jayalalithaa’s popularity was on display on Tuesday. Once the convoy carrying her body reached Marina Beach, some supporters tried to push through the barricades and charge ahead, forcing police to wield their batons briefly to control the crowd.

ALSO READ | How Jayalalithaa made her political debut

“A great vacuum has been created by her loss. She was a very powerful leader who called every shot in the party and micro-managed it constantly," political analyst Ravindran Duraisamy said on Tuesday. “She fought for the rights of Tamil Nadu till the very end and never compromised."

Being a woman in a patriarchal society also meant that, “the women here saw in her a symbol of empowerment," he added.

The funeral reminded arts editor Sadanand Menon of Jayalalithaa’s mentor M.G. Ramachandran or MGR’s funeral three decades ago. “People just kept coming (in)—a whole portion of people beating their breasts and crying," Menon recalled. “Climbing on top of train, I think 36 people died because of the dangerous way they travelled to Chennai."

Back then, MGR’s body was flanked by his family members and his protégée Jayalalithaa. “Although it had been an ordeal, Jaya stood there like a rock without moving. She was right next to MGR’s body," Menon said.

Some others were reminded of the traits the two shared, like their total grip over the party. “AIADMK remained a tightly-held system under Jayalalithaa after MGR," political analyst Sandeep Shastri said. “Jayalalithaa was AIADMK and AIADMK was Jayalalithaa."

An AIADMK leader, who did not want to be named, said Jayalalithaa was buried in keeping with tradition. Most Dravidian leaders, including Annadurai and MGR were buried, the person said.

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