Combined with the agony of losing their dear leader, there was a sense of stubborn disbelief among the AIADMK cadre gathered outside Apollo Hospital on Greams Road, Chennai.
“We’ve been praying for her and we’re sure that she will pass this test as well. She is our god, she is our power,” Selvi, an AIADMK cadre from Kancheepuram, told Hindustan Times outside the Apollo Hospital on Monday night.
Many of the cadre that had gathered outside the hospital, especially after her cardiac arrest on Sunday evening, were waiting for good news from the hospital.
But the statement from the hospital at the wee hours of Tuesday confirmed their worst fears. The chief minister of Tamil Nadu and Amma for many like Selvi, J Jayalalithaa, had passed away at 11.30 p.m. December 5.
Ever since she was admitted to the hospital on September 22 following a fever, details about her health and condition were tightly guarded, and led to many speculations.
Jayalalithaa was not just another mass leader — of course there was the sycophancy, but there was also the love and respect the cadre had for her. The victory at the assembly election in May, breaking the anti-incumbency cycle was evidence of this love and respect. The last time a leader won a consecutive term was almost 30 years back by MGR.
Jayalalithaa’s passing creates a power vacuum in the state because there isn’t a leader in the AIADMK of her stature and there isn’t, at least at the moment, a leader who unites and can carry the party together.
O Panneerselvam, who has been holding the mantle in her absence, took oath as chief minister at around 1.20am on Tuesday. Panneerselvam has twice in past become the chief minister when Jayalalithaa had to step aside. Panneerselvam has the experience but it is not clear if he can carry the party the way Jayalalithaa did.
The current AIADMK government has been in power for only six-and-a-half months and it is to be seen how Panneerselvam will be able to lead it for the remaining four years.
Leaders from across the political spectrum are expressing their condolences and the focus is on reminiscing on the life and times of Tamil Nadu’s five-time CM. But once the agony and shock is over the permutations and combinations of politics will be discussed. Such is the rhythm of politics.
And it is then that the real test for Panneerselvam begins.
Views expressed are personal.