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How Tamil Nadu stayed peaceful after Jayalalithaa’s death

J Jayalalithaa’s legions of devotees had immolated themselves in her defence in the past but when their beloved Amma died on Monday night, they were strangely calm and disciplined in mourning.

Jaya unwell Updated: Dec 08, 2016 10:55 IST
KV Lakshmana
A security person places flowers at the burial place of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa in Chennai.
A security person places flowers at the burial place of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa in Chennai.(PTI Photo)

J Jayalalithaa’s legions of devotees had immolated themselves in her defence in the past but when their beloved Amma died on Monday night, they were strangely calm and disciplined in mourning.

Her party, the AIADMK, said late on Wednesday that 77 people died of shock across Tamil Nadu following news that their resilient Amma couldn’t pull through after a cardiac arrest. It promised to pay Rs 300,000 each to the families of the deceased. Official reports put the death toll at nine till evening.

But whatever the number, it could have been a nightmare had Amma’s supporters behaved the way they did when she was arrested in September 2014 after a Bengaluru trial court convicted her of corruption in a disproportionate assets case. About 244 people died of shock or committed suicide then, while mobs ran riot.

“Police prepared very well … did barricading for crowd control, which was effective. They factored in every aspect of the situation, drawing from past experience and placed policemen and rapid action force (RAF) units wherever needed,” said R Natraj, an AIADMK legislator and a former director general of police.

Barring frayed tempers and minor scuffles, the state and its capital, Chennai, remained peaceful.

Thousands of mourners filed into the landmark Marina beach for a final salute at the grave of the 68-year-old former chief minister and matinee idol.

They wailed and beat their chests, but remained disciplined. The reasons are not far to seek.

The AIADMK leader’s prolonged illness since September, the month she was admitted to Apollo Hospitals, and her oscillating health gave the administration and the people enough time to prepare for the inevitable.

Since news about her health came out of Apollo Hospitals and the party in fits and starts, people were prepared for the eventuality, said psychologist Chitra Arvind of Manas, an NGO.

“Yes, it is difficult for her supporters to accept it. But there was no impulse for them to commit suicide, as was the case before.”

Even die-hard supporters were reconciled to the inescapable fate — this is a natural death, an act of god.

Read| Chennai gradually returns to normal after Jayalalithaa’s death

“Word went out to the party’s rank and file to maintain strict discipline as it was the greatest homage that they could pay to Amma … not to bring discredit to the party,” said C Ponnaian, an AIADMK spokesperson.

Pickets and preemptive action checked the outbreak of violence, while meticulous preparation helped manage a sea of crowd and VVIPs who turned up during Jayalalithaa’s burial on Tuesday.

Across Tamil Nadu, about 100,000 police personnel were deployed, their leaves cancelled. In Chennai, 10,000 rookie constables and 1,000 trainee sub-inspectors were on duty, supplementing the regular security set-up.

A police officer said the closure of state-run Tasmac liquor shops for three days helped too because there were fewer drunken brawls that could have escalated into mass violence.

Read| Not Amma to all: The other side of Jayalalithaa’s legacy