CHENNAI: Two police riot control vehicles quietly pulled into Greams Road in south Chennai at 7pm on Sunday. It was a sign that all was not well. Within half an hour, AIADMK party workers flocked to the road leading to Apollo Hospital, where party leader J Jayalalithaa+ has been receiving treatment since September 22. Some wailed, others closed their eyes with their hands folded, swaying in prayer.
As news broke that doctors had moved the chief minister to ICU after a cardiac arrest+ , several party women in tears gathered outside the hospital gate.
For most it was a show of strength, as if by rallying behind their ‘Puratchi Thalaivi’ (revolutionary leader) in this time of crisis they could, by dint of collective will, resuscitate her and make her well again. “Long live our Puratchi Thalaivi. May she live beyond 100 years,” an AIADMK party worker shouted as others joined in chorus.
Anticipating a law and order situation, senior police officers were at the hospital before 8pm, checking security as they deployed more more men in khaki at the site, with the number of party workers increasing all the time: The number of party supporters outside the closed gates of the hospital climbed from a few hundred to more than 1,000 within two hours.
But there was no stopping Jayalalithaa’s supporters. Many of them forced their way past police barriers, ran toward the hospital’s main gate and prostrated themselves as they would in an audience with the TN CM. Cries and slogans rent the air and whispers sent a ripple through the crowd as people anxiously waited for news of their leader.
A woman collapsed after screaming hysterically. She was raised up by members of the crowd who gave her water to drink. Police commissioner S George and senior AIADMK leaders R Kamaraj and D Jayakumar arrived on the scene around 8.30pm, by which time policemen were struggling to contain a thronging crowd . AIADMK sources said around 4.30pm on Sunday, party men received instructions that they should “all go to the Shiva temple and pray”. At this cue, as it were, party workers rushed to Apollo Hospital. Shops, restaurants and petrol bunks closed early, with people crowding the few that remained open to stock up for the next few days.