Battle for Legacy

Panneerselvam is riding on seeds of doubt over Jayalalitha’s death, already sown in public minds through dodgy Whatsapp forwards and sees this as his best bet to unseat Sasikala

By DANFES

Truths, half-truths and lies, are the story of Jayalalithaa’s 75 days inside Apollo Hospitals in Chennai last year. Since her hospitalization was shrouded in extreme secrecy, it has given sufficient ammunition to Team Panneerselvam, looking to regain political relevance, to suggest foul play in Jayalalithaa’s death on 5 December. Leading from the front for his camp is homegrown Sherlock Holmes, former Tamil Nadu Assembly speaker PH Pandian, who claims to be an expert in criminology.

On more than one occasion, the OPS (O Panneerselvam) camp has alleged a conspiracy in the manner in which Jayalalithaa was suddenly hospitalised on 22 September (she was pushed down at Poes Garden, says Pandian). It also claims that Panneerselvam as the then senior most minister was not given any access to Jayalalithaa and that everything was controlled by VK Sasikala. Panneerselvam is riding on the seeds of doubt already sown in people’s minds through dodgy Whatsapp forwards and sees this as his best bet to unseat Sasikala. On 8 March, OPS plans to sit on a one-day fast demanding a probe into the circumstances leading to Jayalalithaa’s death.

One cannot outright dismiss the questions raised by Team OPS because the man on the street needs convincing that the Mannargudi family that was in control, did not pull the plug on Jayalalithaa. A judicial probe may perhaps be the best option because it would end up unravelling the truth in a systemic, non-partisan manner.

The arrangement at Apollo Hospitals, in the early days of Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation on the second floor, meant that the Critical Care Unit portion where the former chief minister was admitted was cordoned off to ensure other patients and their attendants were not put to inconvenience. Three rooms were allotted to the chief minister’s accompanying team, among them Sasikala. According to sources, Panneerselvam too occupied a room off and on whenever he visited, as did some of the senior bureaucrats and officials in the Chief Minister’s Office. Dr Shivakumar, Sasikala’s relative was also at hand.

Panneerselvam has alleged that he was never allowed to see Jayalalithaa during the period. Sources at the hospital refute this, saying he was allowed to see her through the window of the CCU. And as the head of the state, Governor Vidyasagar Rao went into the room where Jayalalithaa was admitted. On another occasion in October, Rao also saw Jayalalithaa through the window and according to sources close to the Governor, she flashed the thumbs up sign to him.

According to sources, when Jayalalithaa, after showing considerable improvement was moved from the CCU to another room in November, the top brass of the AIADMK was present when she was being wheeled out.

Panneerselvam’s assertion is also in direct contradiction to a press note put out by his own government on 27 September. The details of a crucial meeting on Cauvery river water sharing were put out, claiming that Jayalalithaa had chaired the meeting and even dictated the speech to be read out by then PWD minister Edappadi Palaniswamy at the meeting in Delhi. Sources say the then chief secretary Rammohana Rao, former advisor to the government Sheela Balakrishnan and three other senior officials were present at the meeting. If OPS is to be believed, the government note was a lie. The question that is bound to be asked is why did he choose to keep mum over it then. The onus is now on the five officials to clear the air over the Cauvery meeting.

Sources say Tamil Nadu intelligence officials have now sent a note to the government that indicates that the OPS-led protest will intensify their demand on Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation. The Sasikala camp admits the demand for a judicial commission is a ticking time bomb that could unsettle the government and the party. The fact that Health minister C Vijayabaskar chose to put out a three-page rebuttal is an indication that the AIADMK leadership is not taking it lightly. On Sunday, Vijayabhaskar alleged that OPS is raising doubts about Jayalalithaa’s treatment only because he lost power. Vijayabhaskar says Panneerselvam was aware of the daily briefing given at 11 am about Jaya’s health. In the note, he also points out that OPS was always present when the Apollo team explained about the treatment to visiting VIPs.

The AIADMK leadership is also keen on Apollo Hospitals clarifying matters to rebutt the charges levelled by Team OPS as that, it feels, will lend more credibility. But the hospital management which feels it is getting caught in the political crossfire between the OPS and the EPS camps, is not inclined to go public with confidential patient information unless directed to do so by a court. The government already got Dr Richard Beale to fly in from London on 6 February, a day after Sasikala was elected the leader of the legislature party, to clarify that there was nothing wrong with the treatment. But the timing of the press conference looked suspicious and more like an exercise to give Sasikala a clean chit.

Team OPS has demanded that the footage be retrieved from the CCTVs at Apollo. Though there are no CCTVs installed in the CCU, every corridor has several cameras installed. Sources reveal that no data is destroyed and that old footage can be retrieved on the directions of the court.

It is obvious that there is considerable public interest in what were those 75 days in hospital like. And it is only fair that the people of India know the truth, minus the political mud-slinging.