India Jayalalitha: Thousands mourn colourful politician



Tens of thousands of mourners are flocking to pay their respects to J Jayalalitha, one of India's most influential and colourful politicians.

The 68-year-old chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu suffered a heart attack on Sunday night and died at 23:30 local time (18:00 GMT) on Monday, Chennai's Apollo Hospital says.

Her body, draped in the Indian flag, is on display at a large public hall.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among those who visited to pay tribute.

Extra police have been deployed in the state amid fears of unrest.

The extreme devotion she inspires among her supporters, many of whom refer to her as "Amma" (mother) have led to concerns that they could resort to self-harm or violence.

Earlier reports of her death, which were swiftly withdrawn, prompted scuffles between police and her supporters outside the private hospital.

From the early hours people streamed into the large public park inside which Jayalalitha's body lay in state, wrapped in the national flag.

They converged into the arena from all directions, as the police struggled to control the flow.

It was so intense that you felt there could be a stampede any moment, as men and women surged forward in waves, straining to catch a glimpse of their beloved "Amma".

Many were visibly distraught.

"Amma why have you left us," one woman wailed while another beat her chest.

By the coffin were the VIPs - the prime minister, senior politicians and celebrities.

But those below were the ordinary men and women who formed the bedrock of her support.

"We don't know what will happen to us now," one man muttered, his voice breaking. Another told me he had come from Sri Lanka. "I came to see her because she is my mother," he said simply.

However, lines have been orderly so far, despite the visible emotion among the crowds who are queuing up to catch a final glimpse of Jayalalitha. Many are openly weeping while some are beating their heads and chests.

A seven-day period of mourning has been declared in Tamil Nadu. The central government in Delhi has announced that Tuesday will be a national holiday as a mark of respect and that she will be given a funeral with full state honours.

Tributes began to pour in for her as soon as her death was confirmed by Apollo, which had been treating her since 22 September.

Jayalalitha's AIADMK party - which had earlier lowered the flag to half-mast before hoisting it up once more - also confirmed she had died, tweeting "our beloved leader, the Iron lady of India... Amma, is no more".

"RIP Jayalalitha" has been trending on Twitter, while Facebook is also filled with elegies for a woman who is widely respected for managing to hold her own in the male-dominated world of Tamil Nadu politics.

A senior AIADMK politician, O Panneerselvam, was sworn in as chief of Tamil Nadu within hours of her death, the party's Twitter account confirmed.

Khushboo Sundar, film actress and Congress party spokesperson, told the BBC: "It's very painful for me. Despite our political differences, I had respected her. We were hoping against hope, none of us wanted her to lose this battle.

"She was a symbol of strength for women like me. She fought against so many odds to make a name for herself in a male-dominated profession like politics. We have a lost a great politician, and a great champion of women's rights."

Jayalalitha lived a dramatic life, both on screen and off.

She appeared in more than 100 films before turning her hand to politics in the early 1980s.

Jayalalitha later won control of the AIADMK from its late founder's wife, before leading it to victory in 1991, the first of four occasions she would do so.

She was accused of corruption on several occasions, and spent two short spells in prison - most recently in 2014.

But a Karnataka high court order in 2015, which cleared her of involvement in a corruption scandal, paved the way for her return to power.

Jayalalitha's admirers remain unbowed in their admiration for her and argue she has played a key role in the development of Tamil Nadu as one of India's most economically influential states.