Hundreds of thousands of grieving people descended on Chennai Tuesday to bid a final farewell to J Jayalalithaa, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister who died Monday night aged 68. President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in paying tributes to the leader who was laid to rest with full state honours next to the memorial of her mentor M G Ramachandran.
The last rites at Marina Beach were performed in the evening by Jayalalithaa’s close friend Sasikala Natarajan who many believe will now take control of the ruling AIADMK. Flower petals and sandalwood pieces were showered before the casket was lowered for burial. Hours earlier, as she stood next to the open casket carrying Jayalalithaa’s body wrapped in the Tricolour at Rajaji Hall, Prime Minister Modi consoled Sasikala, placing his head on her head. He was also seen consoling O P Panneerselvam, the new chief minister who wept bitterly.
Chennai was under lockdown overnight as police and the administration made arrangements at Rajaji Hall for the body to be kept there for public view before taking it to the Marina Beach. It was at this hall in December 1987 when Jayalalithaa stood for over 12 hours next to the body of MGR.
Over 15,000 police personnel were deployed across the city and state transport buses were ordered off the roads, fearing that they would be targeted by mourners. But the weeping multitude that surged towards Rajaji Hall at the crack of dawn had time only for a last glimpse of their leader who enjoyed cult status as Amma.
Multiple entry points for VIPs, AIADMK leaders, media and public had to be closed by 9 am because police struggled to control the crowds. MPs, MLAs and politicians argued, entered into minor scuffles with police personnel who blocked entry points.
At Rajaji Hall, AIADMK leaders, ministers and MLAs sat on the floor, next to the body of Jayalalithaa. Besides the President and Prime Minister, six Chief Ministers, including Arvind Kejriwal, Pinarayi Vijayan, Chandrababu Naidu and Naveen Patnaik, arrived in the city to pay homage.
State Opposition leader and DMK treasurer M K Stalin too paid his last respects to Jayalalithaa with folded hands, a gesture that drew approval from her followers.
Modi consoled Sasikala and Panneerselvam and was introduced to Sasikala’s husband M Natarajan by senior BJP leader L Ganesan. Long after leaders of all parties paid tributes and left, Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and state BJP president Tamilisai Soundararajan remained standing next to the body.
Giant video screens installed outside Rajaji Hall streamed footage for those who waited in queues outside. Many collapsed, most wept inconsolably and still many refused to return home without a final glimpse of their leader. Policemen on duty deftly handled the situation but had to use their sticks when barricades were felled by crowds trying to force their way in.
Around 4.30 pm, the body of Jayalalithaa was taken from Rajaji Hall to Marina Beach in a convoy. She was laid to rest with full state honours. Those who paid their last respects included Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Ghulam Nabi Azad, BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu and Pon Radhakrishnan and Governor C Vidyasagar Rao.
PTI adds: Jayalalithaa’s body was covered with an AIADMK party flag — red and white in colour with an image of Dravidian ideologue and former Chief Minister C N Annadurai. Nails were then hammered on the coffin, engraved with the words Puratchi Thalaivi Selvi (Revolutionary Leader) in Tamil, before it was lowered.