Now that the doctors at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, after taking advice from Dr Richard John Beale from London and three specialists from Aiims have concluded that Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa needs "a longer stay at the hospital'', the question that needs to be asked is whether any interim arrangement is being thought of.
BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy thinks Tamil Nadu needs a bout of President's Rule. In two tweets on Thursday evening after the medical bulletin was released, Swamy said : "Centre should consider dejure President's Rule in Tamil Nadu for six months so that JJ can undergo full medical treatment. Law and order is in bad shape.''
In a personal attack against two retired bureaucrats, Swamy tweeted: "At the moment in TN, there is de facto President's Rule which is illegal — Sheela Balakrishnan and Ramanujam running the administration.''
Swamy's reasoning that law and order situation has broken down is an exaggeration. In fact, by the manner in which it controlled the flow of information about the CM, Apollo Hospitals and the state government have ensured things did not get out of hand. They let the information on the seriousness of Jayalalithaa's health condition sink in slowly. While the jury is out on whether it was the right thing to do, it ensured against an emotional outburst from the AIADMK cadre and prevented even many self-immolations as the police intel report had feared, had the CM's dependence on ventilator been revealed earlier.
Swamy's claim that advisor to the CM, Sheela Balakrishnan (who retired as Chief Secretary) and Chief Information commissioner K Ramanajum (who retired as DGP) are running the administration is partly true because that is pretty much the way the Tamil Nadu administration is structured. Reports suggest that Balakrishnan along with the chief secretary was the officer to go to, even when Jayalalithaa was not ill. Now Ramanujam with his vast experience is also available to help out in this moment of leadership crisis. In fact, those defending the government say the semblance of governance is there only because the bureaucracy has taken charge.
But with his salvos, Swamy has touched upon the question people are asking in hushed tones. Should Tamil Nadu go in for another CM who can govern till such time that Jayalalithaa is back from hospital? The opposition is already critical of the manner in which administration in Tamil Nadu in the last two weeks has been on pause mode.
Top sources in the government for now, have denied the possibility. But that is also because the AIADMK is a one-woman party with no second rung to speak of, that can take the crucial political decision, without Jayalalithaa's approval. With the CM on respiratory support and no one except her trusted aide Sasikala from the non-medical team given access to her, it is not known if she can pass on any instructions.
If the MGR template is to be replicated, it is unlikely that the AIADMK will anoint anyone to take charge. In 1984, MGR spent several weeks at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, down with kidney failure and neurological issues that left him semi-paralysed but it was only a combined political leadership of the cabinet that held fort. But at least in MGR's AIADMK, there were seasoned politicians like VR Nedunchezhiyan and RM Veerappan who stood tall in their own right.
Not so in Jayalalithaa's AIADMK. Only her finance minister O Panneerselvam, by virtue of having been CM twice when his leader was debarred from holding office, first in 2001 and then again in 2014, has some experience of being in the top job. But sources within the party indicate that should the party decide to go in for a stopgap arrangement, it is almost certain it won't be OPS, as he is referred to. Relations between OPS and Sasikala, spoken of as the second most powerful person in the AIADMK, are not said to be too good, even though both hail from the politically influential Thevar community.
Sources say four-time MLA and PWD minister EK Palaniswamy who represented Tamil Nadu at the meeting on Cauvery with Union water resources minister Uma Bharathi and Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah last week, could emerge as a frontrunner, in case a decision to this effect be taken. Others in the race could be R Vaithilingam, who is a Rajya Sabha MP and Electricity minister P Thangamani.
But if Swamy expects the Centre to move in, it is unlikely to happen given the Narendra Modi-Jayalalithaa friendly equation. The AIADMK on its part, will hope no Plan B will be needed and that Jayalalithaa will be back in action in the next couple of weeks.