Two SOS calls went out from the Tamil Nadu chief minister's residence in Chennai past 10 pm on 22 September. The first one to Apollo hospital, asking for an ambulance to be rushed to Poes Garden immediately. Senior doctors were asked to be on standby for the VIP patient. The second to the top cops asking for traffic to be cleared for the CM's convoy at that late hour.
Within minutes, the ambulance 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 hospitalised 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. The Prime Minister and the governor 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 over Friday and Saturday spoke about how she is critical and would be flown off to Singapore for further treatment. Apollo hospital and the Tamil Nadu government denied the rumour the next day. The tone and tenor of the press conference on Sunday in which reporters were not allowed entry, was only to say all is well and under control.
But the feeling that something was amiss and the truth was not being revealed, persisted.
The second floor also houses the general ward and the ICU. 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.
Around the same time, 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.
On Tuesday, 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 on Thursday. 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 specialises 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 Lutyens' Delhi realised 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 rumour, 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 favourably 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.''