By Dr. Abdul Ruff
Indian Tamil Nadu government is under increasing pressure to share regular information on the health of popular CM J Jayalalithaa, who has been in hospital for nearly two weeks. The Chief Minister’s health ‘continues to improve”, Apollo hospitals said on Tuesday, hours after the Tamil Nadu government was told that regular updates will reduce the anxiety of people.
Tamil Nadu state government has been asked by the Madras High Court to reply tomorrow to a petition by social activist Traffic Ramaswamy. Amid speculation that Jayalalithaa, 68, is seriously unwell and her party is trying to keep it a secret, Ramaswamy has asked for a statement on her health and the appointment of an interim chief minister. On Monday, the hospital bulletin, for the first time, referred to “continuation of respiratory support” to the Chief Minister.
Jayalalithaa was hospitalized on September 22 with fever and dehydration. Days later, the government said she had dictated her statement on the Cauvery river dispute and briefed bureaucrats and ministers. The ruling AIADMK has vehemently denied reports that Jayalalithaa is critically ill and also filed police complaints against four persons for “spreading rumours” on social media. Yesterday, when a group of AIADMK lawmakers marched in Delhi to protest the centre’s stand on the Cauvery river dispute, party leader M Thambidurai said: “Jayalalithaa told us to come to Delhi and protest.” The party has been stubbornly dismissive of questions about who is in charge of the state.
Opposition leaders like the DMK’s M Karunanidhi have urged the Chief Minister’s party to release a photograph to prove she is not critical, but the AIADMK has rejected the demand. The Governor visited the hospital on Friday but did not meet her. A statement from his office said: “The Governor was happy to note that the chief minister is recovering well and appreciated the doctors for providing the best medical care and treatment.”
Two SOS calls went out from the Tamil Nadu chief minister’s residence in Chennai past 10 pm on 22 September: one to Apollo hospital and another to Chennai traffic. Within minutes, the ambulance arrived at Poes Garden to pick up a seriously ailing CM Jayalalithaa and she was rushed and the Critical Care Unit (CCU) on the second floor at the hospital was made ready. Security paraphernalia of the Chennai police was rushed to the hospital and the 3 km distance from the CM’s home to Apollo hospital on Greams Road was converted into a green corridor. Within 15 minutes, Selvi Jayalalithaa Jayaram, 68, was wheeled directly into the CCU. She was immediately put on non-invasive treatment, with tests done simultaneously to check different health parameters. Soon word spread that the CM had been hospitalized and by morning, crowds began to swell outside Apollo hospital. A press release on the Apollo hospital letterhead said the CM was suffering from fever and dehydration.
The intention was clear. Information to the public was to be given on a need-to-know basis to ensure panic did not spread in the city and the state. For a change, Tamil Nadu’s political ecosystem behaved with dignity. All Opposition leaders, otherwise at daggers drawn with Jayalalithaa, wished her a speedy recovery. PM Modi and the acting governor Rao also sent her their good wishes.
But outside the hospital, the virtual world was fueling rumours overtime in the real world. The first of them spoke about how she is critical and would be flown off to Singapore or USA for further treatment. Apollo hospital and the Tamil Nadu government denied the rumor the next day. The tone and tenor of the press conference in which reporters were not allowed entry, was only to say all is well and under control.
The CCU portion where Jayalalithaa was admitted was cordoned off to ensure other patients and their attendants were not put to inconvenience. Three rooms were allotted to the CM’s accompanying team, among them Sasikala, her trusted aide. Finance Minister O Panneerselvam, the senior-most Cabinet minister in the ministry too has been camping at the hospital. Dr Shivakumar, who is married into Sasikala’s family, is also at hand. Care was taken to ensure mobile phones were not allowed anywhere near the CCU to ensure no pictures of the CM were leaked.
CM Jayalalithaa was hospitalized when the dates for the local bodies’ elections in Tamil Nadu were announced. The AIADMK released the first list of candidates for the elections, as if to indicate it is business as usual. No one knows if it had already been cleared by Jayalalithaa before she was admitted. Also, after the Supreme court heard the Cauvery case, a government press release announced that the CM chaired a meeting from her hospital room and even dictated her speech to be read out by the PWD minister at the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu meeting with Water Resources Minister Uma Bharathi in Delhi. Given what is now known of her condition, the jury is out on whether the CM indeed presided over the meeting. On Wednesday, the CM’s condition deteriorated. “She went down and the medical team had to put her on ventilator to help in breathing and start invasive treatment,” said the source. Well-known intensivist Richard John Beale, who specializes in cases involving critically ill patients, flew down from London to examine Jayalalithaa. An Intel report had been sent to the political leadership of the country in New Delhi as well that Jayalalithaa’s health was cause for concern.
It was then that those in Delhi realized that it was not just a case of fever and dehydration but something more serious. In the absence of any confirmation or denial officially from Apollo hospital or the government, conspiracy theories began to gain traction through WhatsApp forwards. The more outrageous the rumor, the more it lent itself to being shared on social media.
The government announced Rs 476 crore as bonus for PSU employees on Wednesday. The AIADMK’s second list of candidates for the 17 and 19 October election was also released in the week. While the attempt would have been to convey that the leader is in-charge, doubts persist on who exactly is calling the shots. In his rather sharp open letter last week, DMK chief M Karunanidhi quoted a report in a Tamil daily to name Sasikala and Sheela Balakrishnan (advisor to the Tamil Nadu CM) as the shadows who are trying to be the real person. Karunanidhi warned against unauthorised people with access to Jayalalithaa trying to run the state by proxy.
The political leadership in Delhi is aware that Jayalalithaa is not completely out of the woods yet, even though since Saturday she has been responding favorably to the treatment. The Apollo hospital said treatment for her infection was on while AIADMK leaders hoped she would be discharged in 2-3 days. After his visit on Saturday evening, Tamil Nadu’s acting Governor Vidyasagar Rao has sent a formal report to the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Home Affairs on Jayalalithaa’s health condition and his own impression of the situation in the state. Delhi, sources say, is keeping a close watch and coordinating closely to ensure the systems are in place, even without a functioning head of the government.
The AIADMK has been instructed to keep up with its ‘all is well’ narrative. Former minister Valarmathi claimed Amma is in fact working from inside the hospital but glared back when asked if she got an opportunity to meet her inside. CR Saraswathi, AIADMK spokesperson said, “Amma works for 22 out of 24 hours. Even those two hours, she only thinks of people’s welfare. We want her to rest for a few days in hospital because she has been working so hard.”
Supporters of Jayalalithaa are indeed worried about the real status of her health. They refuse to believe what is said or written in the media about her “stable’ conditions or improving health. AIADMK people are seen crying in many places. In fact, some discussions also take place among the people as to who will succeed Jayalalithaa if she succumbs to her sudden illness. How about the court case regarding her disproportionate wealth? – some ask.
The condition of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa at the Apollo Hospitals in Chennai “continues to improve”, said a statement issued by the hospital on Tuesday evening. “The same line of treatment is being continued. The Honourable Chief Minister is under close observation by the team of doctors,” the statement said in an update on Ms. Jayalalithaa’s health. She has been advised further stay for treatment, states a hospital statement.
However, the feeling that something was amiss and the truth was not being revealed persisted. Truth and fiction confuse the people of Tamil Nadu.