Hyderabad, Sep 4: There was an outpouring of grief across Andhra Pradesh Friday with much of the state shutting down to mourn the late Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, whose funeral cortege snaked its way through surging crowds from his home here to the stadium where national leaders and people lined up to pay homage.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi were among the many leaders who flew in from New Delhi to condole the death of the chief minister, whose body was found in the forests of Nallamala Thursday, a day after his helicopter had crashed.
That YSR, as the chief minister was popularly known, was one of the Congress' most powerful leaders was underscored by reports that 67 people had died in the state - either out of shock or by committing suicide - after hearing about the death.
Accompanied by several central ministers, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi laid wreaths on the body placed in his residence and camp office in Begumpet. They met the late leader's wife Vijayalakshmi, son Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, who issued an appeal asking people not to commit suicide, and daughter Sharmila.
From the camp office, the body of YSR, was taken to the Congress headquarters Gandhi Bhavan to enable party leaders to pay respect and from there to the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium, six kilometres away, where he had been sworn in for a second term in office only four months ago.
And all the way were teeming mourners, lined up along the road, on rooftops and packed into the stadium to bid adieu to the man, who had steered the Congress to victory for a second term and died a sudden, tragic death they were still coming to terms with.
Thousands of others accompanied the funeral procession as it slowly made its way to the stadium, where a virtual stampede broke out, and where leaders from across the political spectrum, including Bharatiya Janata Party's L.K. Advani, paid tribute.
Hundreds of vehicles followed the flower-bedecked truck in which the body, draped in the national flag, was kept.
Standing by the side of his father's body was his MP son Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, who was appealing to people to allow the vehicle to move. Holding national flags, some ran towards the truck to have a closer look at the casket and console Jaganmohan Reddy.
In the rest of state, a silence fell with normal life coming to a crippling halt. Schools, colleges, offices, shops and businesses closed as a mark of respect to the leader, whose last rites will be performed in his native town Pulivendula in Kadapa district later Friday.
The usual morning bustle was missing as the government declared a two-day holiday -- Thursday and Friday. The state government has declared a seven-day mourning period. Cable TV operators took all entertainment channels off air.
Guntur, Ongole, Kurnool, Nizamabad, Nellore, Warangal... the situation was similar everywhere.
As the people and his family prepared for the funeral at Pulivendula, where YSR's body will be taken by air, the Congress began to grapple with who would fill the void.
Though Finance Minister K. Rosaiah has been acting chief minister, YSR's loyalists want his 36-year-old son to be made chief minister. Nearly half the 34-member cabinet backs the demand, saying this would be best tribute to YSR.
YSR's iron-like grip over the party ensured that he completed five years without any dissension. Within hours of his death, however, infighting had broken out over who would inherit his legacy.
The world of realpolitik had intervened, even before he could be interred.