A well wisher of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaraman cries outside a hospital where Jayalalithaa is being treated in Chennai, India, December 5, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

One of India’s most popular and powerful politicians, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, is in critical condition in hospital, with the authorities on alert for unrest in the event of her death.

The former movie star, known to her devoted followers as Amma (mother), is on life support after suffering a heart attack on Sunday only days after she handed over many of her responsibilities to a deputy because of illness.

Jayalalithaa Jayaram, leader of the Anna Dravida Munetra Khazhgam, acknowledges supporters from the balcony of her residence after winning the state election in the southern Indian city of Chennai May 13, 2011. Photo: Reuters/Babu

The 68-year-old leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has been in the Apollo Hospital in Chennai since September 22 when she was admitted after complaining of dehydration and fever.

After news of her heart attack spread late on Sunday, police stepped up security across Tamil Nadu and especially around the hospital where thousands of supporters have gathered, as well as at her official residence. Many people have had to cancel travel plans as bus companies suspend operations for fear of their vehicles being hijacked and set alight by rioters.

The charismatic Jayalalithaa has been chief minister of Tamil Nadu four times since entering politics in 1982 after a movie career that spanned 140 films. Her followers have remained devoted throughout, thanks to a series of highly populist schemes and election-time freebies including electric blenders, goats and small amounts of gold.

But without a strong political heir, the fate of the party and the state hang in the balance.

Over the last few weeks, her fans and ardent supporters have resorted to extreme steps while praying for her good health and speedy recovery.

Some have performed sacrifices to try to change her fate. Recent images in the local media at the time showed scores of children with metal arrows piercing their cheeks holding her pictures as they prayed for her recovery.

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