J Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and one of India's most powerful and popular politicians, died late on Monday in a Chennai hospital, nearly three months after she was admitted there. She was 68.
Ms Jayalalithaa had a cardiac arrest on Sunday evening and was rushed back to the Intensive Care Unit or ICU. Barely two weeks ago, after doctors and her party said she was fully recovered from a respiratory illness, she had been moved from the critical care unit to a private room kitted out with emergency equipment.
"It is with indescribable grief, we announce the sad demise of our esteemed honourable chief minister of Tamil Nadu at 11:30 pm (local time) today (December 5)," Chennai's Apollo Hospital said in a statement released to the media after midnight.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, "Deeply saddened at the passing away of Selvi Jayalalithaa. Her demise has left a huge void in Indian politics. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Tamil Nadu in this hour of grief. May the Almighty grant them the strength to bear this irreparable loss with courage and fortitude," adding, "Jayalalithaa ji's connect with citizens, concern for welfare of the poor, the women and marginalized will always be a source of inspiration."
Ms Jayalalithaa was taken to Apollo Hospital on September 22 where she was admitted for dehydration and fever. Her condition soon deteriorated, and she was diagnosed with a severe respiratory infection. Specialists from Delhi's AIIMS hospital and a pulmonary expert from London were flown in for consults.
On November 20, in the clearest sign that they believed she was no longer in danger, doctors said Ms Jayalalithaa had been relocated from the Intensive Care Unit. They also said she was speaking occasionally and was alert. Her party had throughout maintained that she was directing important decisions from hospital including on a water dispute with neighbouring Karnataka.
For the centre and her own government, an over-riding concern apart from her health was the drafting of a contingency plan to prevent riots if her health deteriorated. Known as "Amma" or "mother" to lakhs of supporters, Ms Jayalalithaa's incredible popularity was often exhibited through dramatic fans prone to self-harm and violent attacks on public property when things went against her. Earlier this evening, when local channels wrongly declared her dead at about 6 pm, a brief riot erupted outside Apollo Hospital, receding only when officials declared she was still alive.