One month ago today, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was admitted to hospital. One month later we know less about her condition. Rumours have told us more than official releases. This article on the unprecedented clampdown on information stays true to this spirit of total, or is it totalitarian, secrecy. This article has been written by a senior political commentator of Tamil Nadu. Considering the tender sensibilities of the three Ps of Tamil Nadu — People, Police and Puraitchithalaivi — the author has sought anonymity. This is the column that the author never wrote. Just like the event written about. A lot has happened, but nothing has happened, either. Read on and spare a thought for the health of Tamil Nadu:
It is not the silence that is deafening. In fact, there was much chatter before a paranoid regime decided to unleash its long arms of law and bare its frightful fangs to throttle throats and seal lips. Today, not just social media posts, but street gossip and munching on casual hearsay can land somebody in jail. One wonders in which fertile gardens these very long arms were plucking fruits when ordinary citizens faced much criminal torment every day. But then the cm (read common man) is not the CM (read...chuck it, you know what to read), to be bestowed the unsolicited benefits of State cover — and cover up.
So, let not the silence bother us much. Rather, it is the conspiracy of consensus that is most sinister. All from across the political and social spectrum are, for some strange reason, either conniving, have been co-opted or being coerced into the same conviction: Jayalalithaa is recovering well (even if we don't know if they even as much as saw her because we all see so little of her anyway). Everybody who is somebody walks out of the hospital in complete agreement with the earlier visitor as if in a relay.
Those who raised doubts, fans, friends and foes alike, are now as clear in their minds as distilled water. A sanitised version of ‘facts’ stems from a single source in the sterile stillness of that secure, secret sanctum where no ‘outsider’ dares to tread. It all seems well doctored, the stricken one as well as the statements on her health. And now that the public has been quietened and prominent personalities brought into the kitty, even the customary cursory consolation statements from the hospital are not as forthcoming (we had one today after a long lull). In Jayalalithaa's Tamil Nadu all is well that bends well.
Sickly rumours have been felled. But that doesn't mean rumours are unwelcome. Feel-good foolery is, of course, welcome. People have absolute freedom to say everything possibly and even impossibly positive about the patient, sorry, the guest, without fear of being arrested. Trust the doctors and the hospital or even the police not to play spoilsport. So, give your imagination a free run. You are in the protective cuddle of the Long Arm of the Law when you either send or receive information such as that she talks, discusses, takes decisions, clears papers and issues orders. Did not the Raj Bhavan press release itself acknowledge (or was Raj Bhavan also exercising it's freedom to imagine?) that the portfolio re-allocation was at her behest? That’s not just a sign of life, but throbbing life brimming with familiar authority and classic candour. Oh, yeah, believe we must because in Amma's infallibility we trust!
This is a land and milieu wherein the leaders’ image of infallibility and invincibility is what brings in the political moolah. It is therefore, understandable for those around Jayalalithaa, such as her party, her coteries and even the colluding officialdom, to throw shrouds of secrecy and stringency on news of her health. For them, ideally, what happens in the hospital should stay in the hospital. And that precisely is what should concern the real stakeholders who live beyond the plush, protected confines of a small enclave in Nungambakkam, Chennai. The court may have ruled that her health is a private matter. But the so-called ‘Governmental orders issued with her consent’ are of great legal and administrative significance. Her regime is notorious for its opaqueness even in ‘normal’ times. Given the current situation, those relying on such unverifiable orders have to be extraordinarily wary. The CM’s style is not very difficult to mimic. Should the Centre and its local representative, the Governor, also buy into a possibly well-orchestrated chorus?
It is a month to the date since she entered the hospital on 21 September with the secretariat and the entire state apparatus in tow. Through this period all ministers, several officials and a massive police contingent are all on round-the-clock vigil in the vicinity of the hospital. All of them are supposed to be public servants. Since Jayalalithaa’s arrest in September 2014, and even before, the State has suffered several such bouts of prolonged paralysis, all directly attributable to her personal fate. The present round is perhaps the most perilous. Many questions naturally arise about the day to day functioning, hospital expenditure, the real decision makers, pending projects and alternative political arrangements. And with the monsoon session approaching anytime soon, the State can ill afford such uncertainty.
As a statutory caution let me stipulate that I am neither speculating nor spreading rumours about the CM’s health. Like many, I wish her well. But that no longer should be the issue. Really, everyone should be worrying more about the health of the state which is lying sick in an ICU that reads ‘Indifferent, Callous, Unattended’.
It is time governance in TN is insulated from infectious politicos. It should not go down with pneumonia whenever someone at the helm catches a cold.
Updated Date: Oct 22, 2016 09:50 AM