The mood in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, descended from elation to utter despair on Sunday evening. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa suffered a cardiac arrest at around 6 pm on Sunday, shortly after the party claimed that her condition had “gradually improved” over the past two weeks. She had been admitted to hospital to September 22 ostensibly because she had a fever and was suffering from dehydration.

After television channels flashed the news about this turn for the worse, emotionally charged cadres began weeping outside the Apollo hospital on Chennai’s Greams Road. In just an hour, at least 2,000 AIADMK sympathisers gathered outside the hospital gates and shouting slogans hailing their leader. Some even tried to breach the barricades, prompting the police to increase the security cover in the vicinity.

Many shops across Chennai pulled down their shutters early. The police in some places instructed petrol pumps to close.

Hospital officials said Jayalalithaa was moved from an observation ward back to the critical care unit after her vital indicators nosedived. Over the past few weeks, Apollo hospital has been cautious about revealing details about the chief minister’s health. On Sunday, though, the management decided to put out a press release almost immediately after the development. The statement said the chief minister had suffered a cardiac arrest and was being treated by a group of doctors that included cardiologists and pulmonologists.

Later, members of the hospital management tweeted that she was critical and offered their prayers for her recovery.

On life support

Hospital officials said Jayalalithaa has been put on extracorporeal membrane oxygentation after she was resuscitated following the cardiac arrest.

The oxygenation system, commonly referred to as ECMO, provides both cardiac and respiratory support and is resorted to in highly critical cases where the heart and the lungs cannot support bodily functions on their own. Jayalalithaa was put on the same support system days after she was admitted to the hospital on September 22.

While Apollo in September initially said she was being treated for dehydration, it was gradually revealed that the chief minister was on ventilator support and was suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome triggered by a massive infection.

Dr Richard Beale, an intensive care expert in London, was brought to Chennai in October to assist the team of doctors treating Jayalalithaa. Dr Beale was contacted again on Sunday evening after her condition worsened.

While Tamil television news channels reported that Jayalalithaa underwent angioplasty on Monday morning, hospital officials refused to confirm.

AIADMK in shock

The gravity of the situation on Sunday was revealed in the manner in which the Centre reacted to the news of Jayalalithaa’s deteriorating health.

A senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader told that Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh was briefed by a Tamil Nadu Indian Administrative Service officer on Sunday evening. “Rajnath Singh then asked acting governor C Vidyasagar Rao to rush to Chennai from Mumbai,” the leader added.

BJP officials said Rao had been scheduled to attend Union Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari’s daughter’s wedding reception in Nagpur on December 6 but had to cancel the visit to fly to Chennai.

The Centre has also dispatched a team of four cardiologists from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi to help treat Jayalalithaa. The team is expected to arrive in Chennai by noon.

In Tamil Nadu, a circular from the Director General of Police’s office on Sunday evening asked all officers in the state to report to duty in their respective limits at 7 am on Monday. Police officials said the department was putting together a detailed plan to ensure peace in case of any eventuality. The Centre has also offered the help of reserve forces if required.

In the AIADMK, the news on Jayalalithaa’s health sent shockwaves through the ranks. About 15 members of parliament who flew to New Delhi on Sunday evening to attend the parliamentary proceedings on Monday rushed back to Chennai in the 3.30 am flight.

An AIADMK Rajya Sabha MP said they received instructions to return to Chennai at 9.30 pm. The message was communicated to the MPs through Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai, who was also in the Capital.

In Chennai, senior ministers including O Panneerselvam, were waiting in Apollo hospital. A senior party official said all MLAs have been asked to be in Chennai by Monday noon though they were not told why.