Sick Indian leader hands over powers as fans hold vigil

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 September 22 suffering from fever and dehydration and is on respiratory support.

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 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.

The state’s governor announced late Tuesday that her portfolios had been transferred to OP Panneerselvam, who has stepped in for her in the past, although she remains chief minister. 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 on Wednesday she is “recovering and responding to the treatment”. “Our party functionaries are performing whacky pujas and prayers as they are suffering to see the party leader admitted at the hospital for the past 21 days now,” party spokesperson CR Saraswathy told AFP.-AFP

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