After Tamil Nadu minister C Sreenivasan sought people's forgiveness for "lying" about the health condition of late chief minister J Jayalalithaa during her stay at Apollo Hospital, the mystery over the cause of her death is expected to only deepen.
Speaking at an event in Madurai on Friday, Sreenivasan said, "We told lies that Jayalalithaa had idlis and people met her. The truth is that nobody saw her."
Nevertheless, it was not just Sreenivasan, but also the state machinery, including the ruling AIADMK and leaders cutting across party lines, who assured people of "improvement" in Jayalalithaa's health. If the minister is to be believed, only VK Sasikala, the now jailed confidante of Jayalalithaa, used to meet the late chief minister.
If Sreenivasan's allegation turns out to be true, then it implicates the entire political class — including the Centre— of having partnered with Sasikala in perpetuating the lie. The latest charge leveled by the minister against Sasikala will only fuel the wild speculation around Sasikala's alleged role in the late chief minister's death.
The statements made by various leaders, who visited Jayalalithaa during the 75 days she spent in hospital, had many things in common. Each leader would say they went to the hospital and spent time with doctors. They would later come out and tell the media she is improving. However, none of them categorically stated that they met the ailing leader.
Sreenivasan's revelations also raise a question over Jayalalithaa "advising" Tamil Nadu governor C Vidyasagar Rao to allocate her additional portfolios to then finance minister O Panneerselvam.
"Under Clause (3) of Article 166 of the Constitution of India, Governor has allocated the subjects hitherto dealt with by the Chief Minister to O Panneerselvam. This arrangement has been made as per advice of the Chief Minister and will continue until she resumes her duties. Jayalalithaa will continue to be the Chief Minister", a communication from the Raj Bhavan had said.
If none of them ever visited the ailing AIADMK supremo during her hospitalisation, then a valid question will be raised: Who exactly advised Rao?
Rao himself visited Jayalalithaa twice in October. On his first visit on 1 October, Rao had said that he was happy to note, she was "recovering well". After his second visit on 22 October, the Raj Bhavan issued a statement: "Rao visited the chief minister in the ward where she is undergoing treatment. The governor was happy to note that the chief minister is progressing well." On that day, Rao was accompanied by Union Minister of State for Science and Technology, YS Chowdary, who too wished Jayalalithaa a speedy recovery.
It is pertinent that the post of governor is a constitutional post and is expected to be above political manipulations. However, in this case, the governor appears to have been a part of the strategy to keep the people in the dark: If Sreenivasan is to be believed, that is.
Not just Rao, but a host of senior leaders from the Centre and the ruling party too made statements on Jayalalithaa's health.
Among the first Union ministers to meet Jayalalithaa in hospital was M Venkaiah Naidu. Talking to reporters outside hospital on 12 October, Naidu said, “I had a detailed briefing by the doctors. They said the chief minister is responding to the treatment. It is not fair to spread rumours about her health. I’m sure she will recover soon.”
In light of Sreenivasan's latest revelation, even Naidu's statement will be under the scanner as he was considered the point person between the Centre and the state government during the crisis.
Just before Naidu's visit, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi too visited the Apollo Hospital to enquire about Jayalalithaa's condition.
The Hindu quoted him as saying, “I came to extend my support and the Congress president’s support to Jayalalithaa. She is recovering well and going to be alright.”
A Firstpost report also noted that Rahul had "peeped in through the glass door of the Critical Care unit where the chief minister was admitted".
Sreenivasan's allegations gain even more significance as there were reports that the ailing leader had also performed official duties from her hospital bed.
Former minister P Valarmathi pointed out that she even announced the party's candidates for the civic polls while being hospitalised.
"Amma (Jayalalithaa) is healthy. She needs rest as per doctors' advice and will return in good health. Some jealous people are carrying out a wrong campaign to confuse people by spreading rumours about Jayalalithaa's health," Valarmathi had said.
If Sreenivasan is indeed speaking the truth then Valarmathi's statement may have been a deliberate attempt to show that all was well in the AIADMK. It is to be noted that the party has always lacked a strong second-rung of leadership and its overdependence on the late leader's mass appeal.
"We all lied then so that the party's secret does not get leaked," Sreenivasan said on Friday.
Arch rival M Karunanidhi demanded that pictures of the chief minister be released to quell rumours. However, senior AIADMK leader Panruti Ramachandran had criticised Karunanidhi.
"He has no right to demand so. What has to be informed to the people, we are doing so. The doctors are qualified to talk about someone's illness and they are sharing information," Ramachandran said.
Sreenivasan's revelation may be corroborated by what Panneerselvam said after his midnight revolt against Sasikala on 8 February.
Speaking to reporters at the Jayalalithaa memorial, Panneerselvam claimed that he was never allowed to visit Jayalalithaa even once during her hospital stay.
"I never got to see her once even though I went every day for more than 70 days of her hospitalisation. They turned me away saying she is in ICU and her immunity is low so you must cooperate," Panneerselvam told CNN-News18.
But Panneerselvam's statement came under scrutiny as he was often reported to be in the hospital during Jayalalithaa's 75-day stay and never made any such claims when he was chief minister between December 2016 and February 2017.
If Panneerselvam's statement on 8 February is true, questions will once again be asked as to why Sasikala was so eager to stop the truth from coming out.
Sreenivasan's latest salvo will only add more substance to the inquiry commission that was ordered by Chief Minister E Palaniswamy into the death of Jayalalithaa.
With inputs from agencies
Published Date: Sep 24, 2017 13:55 PM | Updated Date: Sep 24, 2017 13:57 PM