The chief minister of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa, suffered a cardiac arrest late on Sunday night, sending the capital Chennai in a state of hysteria.
The sentiments of the swelling crowd outside the Apollo hospital, where the leader has been treated for the last 70 days, reflect the power and stature Jayalalithaa has enjoyed in Tamil Nadu for nearly 27 years.
Popularly known as “Amma” (mother), the leader is considered no less than a “demigod” by her supporters. The vicinity of her office in the Royapettah area of Chennai is always dotted with vendors selling “Amma” merchandise. From her posters to stationery items with her pictures, and even photo lockets, they sell it all. Outside her house in the plush Poes Garden, one can always find groups of supporters trying to catch a glimpse of their leader. Her birthdays have been celebrated with King-sized cakes and her many arrests have been followed by days of unrest and violence.
Here’s a look at her political career:
In 1982, actress-turned-politician Jayalalithaa joined the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), a party founded by southern Indian cultural and political icon MG Ramachandran—popularly known as MGR.
Soon after, she was made the party’s propaganda secretary in 1983. She also campaigned as a candidate from the Tiruchendur Assembly Constituency.
In 1984, she was elected for the first time as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament.
This was also the year when Jayalalithaa came to the fore during elections to the Lok Sabha (lower house) and the legislative assembly in Tamil Nadu. MGR had fallen ill and was undergoing medical treatment in the United States. In his absence, the alliance of Congress (I) and AIADMK secured a massive victory, marking a turning point in Jayalalithaa’s political career.
Two years after MGR’s death in 1987 and a split in the AIADMK, Jayalalithaa was elected as a member of Tamil Nadu’s legislative assembly in 1989 from the Bodinayakanur constituency.
Jayalalithaa became the first woman leader of the opposition in the legislative assembly of Tamil Nadu.
Jayalalithaa got together the warring factions that had split after MGR’s death and was unanimously elected the general secretary of the united AIADMK.
That year the Congress (I) and AIADMK alliance swept the Lok Sabha general elections in a historic win.
Jayalalithaa led AIADMK to victory in all the following by-elections from the constituencies of Peranamallur, Madurai East and Marungapuri to the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly.
In 1991, Jayalalithaa was sworn-in as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, becoming the youngest ever and the second woman chief minister of the state. She remained in power till 1996 with the AIADMK losing assembly elections amid corruption charges.
The disproportionate assets case
Janata Party leader Dr Subramanian Swamy filed a private complaint in 1996 in a court accusing Jayalalithaa of amassing wealth amounting to Rs 66.65 crore, which was disproportionate to her known sources of income during her tenure as chief minister.
Jayalalithaa was arrested on charges of corruption, including amassing disproportionate assets, in December that year.
In 2000, a special court in Chennai convicted Jayalalithaa in the TANSI land deal case. Jaya publication and Sasi enterprises, two companies in which the politico and her close aide Sasikala had holdings, had in 1992 purchased lands of a state government agency.
However, after a landslide win in the 2001 Tamil Nadu legislative assembly elections, Jayalalithaa became the chief minister for a second time in May, but could hold the position only till September 2001.
She was removed from the position after the Supreme Court of India quashed her appointment as she was disqualified to contest due to the TANSI case conviction.
She came back to power in 2002 and then in 2011 for a fourth time, the corruption charges plaguing her political career.
Jayalalithaa stepped down again in 2014 when a trial court in Karnataka held her guilty in the now 18-year-old Disproportionate Assets case.
The court sentenced her to a four-year jail term with a fine of Rs 100 crore, but she challenged the verdict in the Karnataka High Court.
The judgement led to disturbances in parts of Tamil Nadu with supporters vandalising public property.
In May 2015, the Karnataka High Court acquitted Jayalalitha in the Disproportionate Assets case.
She became the chief minister in 2015 and for a record sixth time in 2016.
Despite the several corruption charges against her, supporters hail her for her efforts to set-up for-poor programmes like the Amma canteens, which provide daily meals at subsidised rates across Tamil Nadu.
Since September this year Jayalalithaa has been missing from the political centre-stage, undergoing treatment in Chennai for lung infection.