Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, whose health has been a matter of speculation for some time, has been hospitalised for more than two weeks, with doctors saying she is on "necessary" respiratory support.
She is currently in Chennai's private Apollo Hospital under the care of a team of doctors including specialists in critical care, cardiology and diabetes, as well as respiratory and infectious diseases. The medical team has sought advice from doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, a top government hospital in Delhi, as well as a British critical care specialist.
In a state where hero worship, especially of politicians and movie stars, is prevalent, supporters of the 68-year-old Chief Minister have conducted vigils and offered prayers at temples and mosques for her good health. In an extreme case, a man is reported to have set himself alight and is in hospital with 30 per cent burns.
Concern over the charismatic leader has mounted since she was hospitalised on Sept 22 with what doctors then diagnosed as "fever and dehydration". The hospital has since said she has a lung infection.
"Senior ministers and doctors say she is responding. The way they are telling me about how she is responding, it must be serious. It is multiple issues," said Mr D. Raja, a Communist Party of India parliamentarian who was among the leaders, including Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who streamed into the hospital to see her.
Former Congress MP M. Krishnaswamy told reporters after a visit yesterday that the Chief Minister was "recovering fast".
The government has been trying to stop rumours about her health, with the police arresting two people on charges of "inciting violence and spreading rumours", an officer said yesterday. The two have been accused of posting false news on social media websites.
An actress-turned-politician, Ms Jayalalithaa is one of India's most recognisable political figures and a powerful regional leader. She has been a dominant figure in Tamil Nadu with a political career spanning more than 30 years, surviving many challenges along the way, including going to jail briefly on a graft conviction in 2014.
Her public appearances leading up to the last election were minimal, leaving party officials scrambling to scotch rumours surrounding her health, but she still won the polls and was sworn in for the sixth time as Chief Minister in May.
But Ms Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is widely seen as a "one-woman party" and her absence has begun to raise concern about the lack of successors.
"No major decisions will be taken. No arrangement seems to have been made within the party in case of this present eventuality. This is not good for any democracy," said Chennai-based political commentator Badri Seshadri, who noted the state's public expenditure had dropped by 30 per cent in the first three months of the year.
At least one prominent politician on the national stage has even suggested that New Delhi take control of the state, although that is unlikely to happen.
Dozens of people are camped outside Apollo Hospital and many of the party faithful remain confident that their leader will be back at the helm soon.
"Amma is doing very well. She is recovering very fast," said party member Aspire Swaminathan, referring to Ms Jayalalithaa. He held a special yajna, or fire prayer, at a temple for her quick recovery.