Jayalalithaa's final days: As mystery continues, should Centre step in to clear the air?

Court processes may take their time, but that need not be the case with the Centre's initiatives. If it's convinced that rumours about Jayalalithaa need to be sealed, in the larger interest of public order, it may act now.

Sathiya Moorthy December 15, 2016 19:56:40 IST
Jayalalithaa's final days: As mystery continues, should Centre step in to clear the air?

Social media (in English and Tamil, if not other Indian languages) has gone on overdrive regarding news of Tamil Nadu chief minister's Jayalalithaa's last days, and it may now be for the Centre to clear the air. Even when Jayalalithaa was in hospital, the state government and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party were already taking up the matter of rumour-mongering through the cyber cell police. Now the matter is pending before the Supreme Court, where the petitioner has asked for a CBI probe into the matter.

Hours after Jayalalithaa was declared dead, and more so after her burial a day later, social media was abuzz with speculation as to who is entitled to all her personal property, worth Rs 114 crore — but without saying anything about documentation or details.

More than that, however, there were also claims that a judge was summoned to the hospital, for the transfer to be made effective, when Jaya was still in the last days before she developed the fatal cardiac arrest.

Jayalalithaas final days As mystery continues should Centre step in to clear the air

Great mystery still surrounds Jayalalithaa's final days. PTI

In the normal course, a property registrar and not a judge is called in for these purposes, even if it has to be done in a hospital ward. A judge comes into the picture in due course only if the original transfer is contested — or a probate is needed to be made out, based on a will or hereditary succession.

The more controversial social media claims still continue to highlight questions on why, how and when Jayalalithaa will be taken out of the hospital, and by whom. As also questions about why nobody was allowed to see the chief minister. And they don't stop there. There are questions and suspicions also raised about the cause of death, and the role played by Jayalalithaa's live-in confidante Sasikala Natarajan — who had, from time to time, been in and out of favour.

That Sasikala was at Jayalalithaa's Poes Garden residence when the latter had to be hospitalised is not questioned. Nor is the fact that she had spent most of her time at Apollo Hospital throughout those critical 75 days. Whether or not she was actually with Jayalalithaa through that period, though, isn't known.

The hospital and the state government have been very selective and careful about giving out private information, although a chief minister is a "public" servant and thus a public figure. Even on select occasions when government officials did meet the media, no questions were encouraged or answered.

The government had initiated police action against these "rumour-mongers". At least a dozen people had been arrested and charged under the relevant cyber laws. Two bank officers were held after a female cadre from the AIADMK filed a complaint, saying she heard the duo gossip about Jayalalithaa's health. Having left much of the early-day briefings to his officials, Apollo Hospitals chairman Dr Pratap C Reddy entered the scene only once he was confident that she had passed the dangerous phase and was on her way to recovery.

Almost every week thereafter, he found an informal occasion outside hospital premises to tell the media that Jayalalithaa was free to return home whenever she up to it. If it implied that she was medically fit enough to be discharged, he did not make it clearer, but didn't leave it hanging either.

Given these reasons, and for the nation to know the whole truth, the Centre's role becomes more important and more relevant. Throughout Jayalalithaa's hospitalisation, the Centre was known to be keeping a close watch on her health. As may be recalled, throughout the 75 days, acting Tamil Nadu governor C Vidyasagar Rao was keeping a close watch on her progress.

At least on two occasions before the fatal cardiac arrest, the governor called on the chief minister at the hospital. After the second visit, Raj Bhavan notified state finance minister and two-time chief minister O Panneerselvam, who would chair Cabinet meetings and look after the portfolios under Jayalalithaa's care. The Raj Bhavan communiqué clarified that 'Amma' continued to be the chief minister, but did not say if she was in a condition to know the decisions that had been taken regarding her position.

Beyond a point, as much as the public had a right to know about the health condition of the state's chief minister, it was also a personal call.

In between, a few senior Union ministers, including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, called on Jayalalithaa. He was also accompanied by Amit Shah, president of the ruling BJP. If called upon, any or all of them, should be in a position to clarify a few issues, but only to the extent that they could have been witnessed to, as laymen unaware of medical issues, conditions and protocol.

The same, however, could not be said of the four specialists that the Apollo Hospitals, who had reportedly called in from the State-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), which used to be the nation's premier healthcare centre for VVIP patients before the private sector stepped in, in a big and visible way.

A few weeks after Jayalalithaa's hospitalisation, AIIMS doctors started seeing Jayalalithaa, going through her medical records, and possibly suggesting or accepting the line of treatment. In fact, they were among the last to see the six-time chief minister after the cardiac arrest. They were also possibly the first ones to leave the hospital before her death was announced — if one is to believe the local media.

It's another matter that a section of the local media goofed up by reporting that Jaya was dead — when she was still living — hours before she was pronounced dead.

Neither the political leaders from Delhi nor the AIIMS doctors, not even Governor Rao may have the answers for what had happened at Poes Garden before her hospitalisation. But they would have knowledge available to them, personal evidence, and domain knowledge and experience.

One other man who definitely had more knowledge than India's political class was Dr Richard Bele from the UK, who visited Jayalalithaa more than once, and was also said to be monitoring her condition through tele-medicine processes. In comparison, the two physio-therapists from a Singapore hospital, who were reportedly called in to administer "passive physiotherapy" to her for a fairly long period, from time to time, may have also known something — but not all of it, given their own limited domain knowledge and skills.

All of them could be of some help if and when sought or summoned by a court of law. Also, given the long history of PILs in this country, someone may even move the courts in this regard.

Incidentally, the Madras high court, on more than one occasion during that 75-day period, had dismissed PILs filed by the indefatigable octogenarian, PIL litigant KR Ramaswamy. After pursuing the relevant papers, the court even called it a "publicity interest litigation", not "public interest litigation".

To that extent, whether these issues require a response from the Centre (or its agents, including ministers, Rao, AIIMS doctors) or the state government (or its officials, including present-day chief minister Paneerselvam) or Apollo Hospital authorities or Jayalalithaa's house staff may all be for the courts to decide upon.

That's even if the Centre does decide to come up with some inquiries and information. Court processes may take their time, but that need not be the case with the Centre's initiatives. If it's convinced that the rumours need to be sealed one way or the other, in the larger interest of public order and confidence, it may act now.

Hours after the funeral, governor Rao did the right thing by putting on record his congratulations for the state police, especially Chennai police commissioner, S George, for maintaining law and order across Tamil Nadu. In what could be an unprecedented step, Rao wrote directly to the director-general of police, TK Rajendran, when the normal practice, if at all, would have been to write to the chief minister (Panneerselvam in this case), or to the chief secretary, PS Ramamohan Rao, who too may have been privy to some of the events, if not all of it — especially the medical condition. Raj Bhavan also released the governor's letter to the media.

It’s another matter that Panneerselvam became the first chief minister of Tamil Nadu to be sworn in at midnight, and the second to do so without the media glare. The circumstances might even justify it.

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