When Tamil Nadu Governor Vidyasagar Rao, who is also Governor of Maharashtra, boarded the flight from Mumbai to Chennai on Saturday afternoon, he was worried. Unverified reports had painted a grim picture of Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa's health and opposition parties had called for the Governor to take charge of the situation. Demands had been made that he assess first hand if Jayalalithaa is in a position to discharge her constitutional duties.
At half past six in the evening, he walked into Apollo Hospitals in Chennai and was escorted by Apollo group chairman, Dr Prathap C Reddy into the ward in the Critical Care unit on the second floor where chief minister Jayalalithaa has been admitted since 22 September. The two spent close to 15 minutes with the CM and when he stepped out, the Governor is said to have had "a relieved look on his face''.
In a statement, Raj Bhavan said, "The Governor was happy to note that the CM is recovering well''. According to sources, the doctors told Vidyasagar Rao that Jayalalithaa "is responding well to treatment''.
Sources confirm that there was a real scare mid-week, with the CM facing respiratory issues but say things are now beginning to look up. Jayalalithaa is still in critical care but stable. Though no one is willing to commit to how long Jayalalithaa's stay at Apollo is likely to be, those in the know believe that with the current improvement, the odds are that the CM could walk out of the hospital by the end of the month.
Step out of the hospital and you get to hear an entirely different story. Rumours and morphed photographs are having a field day, courtesy Whatsapp and Facebook, the modern-day Naradas of the cyber world. On Saturday, a photograph of a patient inside an ICU did the rounds. It was said to be that of Jayalalithaa before it was discovered it was a fake and had been lifted from a hospital in Peru.
DMK chief Karunanidhi and PMK leader Dr S Ramadoss have asked the AIADMK to release photographs and a video of the CM to tell the world her real condition. The two leaders ought to know that ethically it is just not the right thing to do. Which is why the AIADMK has asked them to go, take a walk.
"She is a lady, is it even right for Karunanidhi to ask for her photograph when she is in hospital,'' asks CR Saraswathi, AIADMK spokesperson.
Former chairman of Press Council of India, Markandey Katju is more sharp. In a Facebook post, he takes Karunanidhi to the cleaners, writing : "What kind of a man is this Karunanidhi? Has he no sense of honour? Asking for the release of a photograph of a lady is disgraceful, shameful and outrageous. It is shocking, highly objectionable, vile and appalling, and shows that Karunanidhi has no sense of decency and rectitude.''
Legally, it is only the patient or his/her family that can decide whether to share a photograph. Superstar Rajinikanth's daughter Aishwarya had tweeted his photograph at the hospital in Singapore while badminton player Saina Nehwal tweeted a photo after her surgery in August. But as far as Jayalalithaa's case is concerned, it is just not about the ethical factor. It is a political and administrative decision on whether a picture should be released.
That is because Tamil Nadu has a history of political activists trying to harm themselves, when their leaders get into trouble. AIADMK itself has witnessed this when MGR was hospitalised in 1984 and passed away in 1987, with many self-immolations reported in Tamil Nadu. In August 2014, an AIADMK woman party member attempted suicide, reportedly upset over a derogatory article about Jayalalithaa that was published on the Sri Lankan Defence ministry website. The CM wrote her a letter asking the party cadre not to resort to such extreme steps. But that did not stop many of them from doing the same when Jayalalithaa was sent to jail a month later in the disproportionate assets case.
Self-immolation has been a oft-used method by political cadre to kill oneself in Tamil Nadu. Psychiatrists believe the weak-minded get into a self-destruct mode to show their loyalty to the person or the cause by getting martyred in public. It is the kind of mass hysteria, that the law and order machinery would like to avoid.
In this case, it is feared that a picture of Jayalalithaa on the hospital bed, would be enough to emotionally disturb the AIADMK cadre. Most would imagine the worst and end up harming themselves or others. It could even lead to disruption of peace, with the more angry lot resorting to attacks on political rivals. And with the Cauvery dispute with Karnataka creating tensions between the two states, miscreants and anti-social elements can take advantage of the situation. Those in charge say they are therefore, consciously playing it down.
Old-timers argue that pictures were released and regular press briefings addressed by the then Health minister HV Hande when MGR was hospitalised in October 1984. "That time it was necessary as Tamil Nadu was going to elections,'' recalls Marimuthu, an AIADMK activist. "We are answerable to the people, not to the opposition leaders,'' says P Ramachandran, AIADMK spokesperson, ruling out the possibility emphatically.