Ailing Indian leader hands over duties; fans hold vigils

Ms Jayalalithaa's deputy, Mr Panneerselvam, will stand in for her while she recuperates from her illness. The hugely popular Chief Minister was admitted to hospital on Sept 22 and is on respiratory support.
Ms Jayalalithaa's deputy, Mr Panneerselvam, will stand in for her while she recuperates from her illness. The hugely popular Chief Minister was admitted to hospital on Sept 22 and is on respiratory support.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister's supporters resort to self-harm as they pray for her recovery

CHENNAI • Ailing south Indian politician Jayalalithaa Jayaram has handed many of her responsibilities to her deputy, her party said, as desperate fans held vigils for her recovery, with some resorting to self-harm.

The hugely popular Chief Minister of southern Tamil Nadu state, a former movie star, was admitted to hospital on Sept 22 suffering from fever and dehydration, and is on respiratory support.

The authorities have said little about the state of the 68-year-old's health after several of her supporters resorted to self-harm when she was briefly jailed in 2014 on charges of corruption.

But that has not stopped some from performing sacrifices to try to change her fate.

Last week, images in local media showed scores of children with metal arrows piercing their cheeks holding Ms Jayalalithaa's picture as they prayed for her recovery.

One supporter was injured when he set himself on fire, while an elderly man suspended himself from a crane with steel hooks pierced through his skin.

Police in the state capital of Chennai arrested two people on Tuesday for "spreading rumours" about Ms Jayalalithaa's health.

The state's governor announced late on Tuesday that her portfolios had been transferred to Mr O. Panneerselvam, who has stepped in for her in the past, although she remains as Chief Minister.

Officials said Mr Panneerselvam, apart from holding the charges of her ministries, will preside over Cabinet meetings.

The arrangement, according to officials, would last until Ms Jayalalithaa's health improves and she resumes her duties.

Mr Panneerselvam, a trusted aide of Ms Jayalalithaa, had stood in for her during her incarceration in 2014 and previously in 2001 when she was barred by India's Supreme Court.

Ms Jayalalithaa enjoys huge popularity in Tamil Nadu, where fans know her simply as "Amma" (Mother), thanks to a series of highly populist schemes and election- time freebies including electric blenders, goats and small amounts of gold.

Her AIADMK party said yesterday she is "recovering and responding to the treatment".

"Our party functionaries are performing wacky pujas and prayers as they are suffering to see the party leader admitted at the hospital for the past 21 days now," party spokesman C.R. Saraswathy told AFP.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline 'Ailing Indian leader hands over duties; fans hold vigils'. Print Edition | Subscribe