How serious was Jayalalithaa’s health condition when she was hospitalised?
A key question that remains unanswered is about the actual health condition of Jayalalithaa as she was brought to Apollo Hospitals on September 22, 2016. The initial health bulletin released by the hospital stated that Jayalalithaa had been admitted for breathlessness and dehydration, and was responding well.
However, the accounts of Sasikala and others who brought Jayalalithaa to the hospital paint a more serious picture of her health condition. Sasikala’s affidavit states that Jayalalithaa fell unconscious at her home in Poes Garden and was taken to Apollo in an ambulance called by Dr Sivakumar. It adds that Jayalalithaa regained consciousness during the ride to the hospital and asked where she was being taken. Here is the first major contradiction, as Dr Sivakumar’s version of the events states that while Jayalalithaa regained consciousness en-route, she did not speak until after undergoing a few tests at Apollo Hospital.
The doctors from AIIMS, Delhi who assessed Jayalalithaa nine times during hospitalisation, said that she had suffered a setback before showing signs of improvement. However, the testimony by Ramesh Chand Meena, an IAS officer who served as secretary to the governor, is said to have stated that then Governor Vidyasagar Rao had been informed of UK expert Dr Richard Beale’s assessment that gave the ailing chief minister only a 40 per cent chance of survival.
Did Jayalalithaa acknowledge former Guv’s presence?
Another statement of contradiction that has emerged is then Governor Vidyasagar Rao’s account of visiting Jayalalithaa. According to the governor’s memoir, Those Eventful Days, Jayalalithaa acknowledged his presence with a ‘thumbs up’ when he visited her on October 22, 2016. This was corroborated in Sasikala’s affidavit and during the September 11, 2018 deposition of Ramesh Chand Meena.
However, during his deposition on May 2, 2018, Dr Sivakumar mentioned that on the Governor’s visit, he had seen the ailing chief minister through the glass door as she received physiotherapy. Notably, he mentioned that the chief minister was not aware of the governor’s presence and did not acknowledge him.
Who actually met former CM in hospital?
On the question of who met Jayalalithaa during her hospitalisation, there is contention from the Sasikala camp as well as AIADMK leaders. On December 25, 2017, Panneerselvam spoke to the press where he said that none of the ministers had seen Jayalalithaa during her hospitalisation and that they received updates on her health from Sasikala. However, the affidavit filed by Sasikala states that Panneerselvam and Rajya Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai saw Jayalalithaa between September 22 to 27, 2016, as she was shifted from the second floor to the first.
Dindigul C Sreenivasan briefly claimed that he interacted with Jayalalithaa in hospital once in a while, but retracted the statement and issued an apology for the alleged falsehood. Nilofar Kafeel also stated to have seen Jayalalithaa once, on November 19, while Sellur Raju is on record stating that all ministers saw Jayalalithaa. KC Veeramani sided with Sreenivasan, saying that no one had seen Jayalalithaa and received information from Sasikala on her health. With the absence of CCTV footage or a daily log of visitors to the hospital during the 75-day period, there is a crucial question of the veracity of both claims that must be addressed by the commission.
CCTV footage: Was it erased or did it never exist?
A huge controversy has erupted about the CCTV footage from the time of Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation. Contradictory statements have been made by the hospital management. When COO Subbiah Viswanathan was sent summons to depose on September 7, the commission directed Apollo to turn in all footage within seven days. On September 11, the hospital submitted that no footage was available from the time of Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation, as the server had the capacity to store footage for a period of 30 days after which it gets overwritten.
However, at a function in May, Apollo Hospitals Chairman Dr Pratap Reddy had told the press that all CCTV cameras in the ward were switched off for 75-days during Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation. It was not elaborated on whose orders the CCTV cameras were turned off. This was also corroborated by former IG (Intelligence) K N Sathyamurthy, who had in his deposition on June 28 mentioned that all CCTV cameras were switched off or removed but was unaware who ordered it so. There is little clarity on whether any footage existed or if the cameras had been turned off on someone’s orders.
Why were there so many lapses in security protocol for a sitting CM?
Questions must also be asked of lapses of part of key officials and bureaucrats. The intelligence wing, under whose control the Apollo Hospital floor on which Jayalalithaa was treated, did not maintain a daily log of visitors to the chief minister over 75 days. The IG KN Sathiyamoorthy was also not aware on whose orders the CCTV cameras were turned off. The IG has also stated that there was no coordination between the intelligence wing and the Special Protection Group. Police Commissioner S George has stated that an escort can did not accompany the ambulance to Apollo Hospital. He has also said on record that though he visited the hospital every day, he did not see the ailing Chief Minister even once.
The commission has also raised pertinent questions on the revelation by Apollo Hospital that the health bulletins issued came from the Tamil Nadu Government’s Department of Information and Public Relations. It is unclear who had coordinated the release. The commission has also raised questions on the role of the office of the Governor and the health secretary in keeping the Central government, the President and the State’s council of ministers informed on the health status of Jayalalithaa.
The commission has only begun efforts to examine if there is a paper trail for the same if at all. Such lapses have allowed much room for speculation on who controlled the scene during Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation and the nature of her illness and the number of people who had been kept informed.
September 22, 2016 - Jayalalithaa admitted at Apollo Hospital
December 5, 2016 - Jayalalithaa declared dead
September 25, 2017 - TN Government forms one-man inquiry commission to look into the circumstances surrounding Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation and death
October 27, 2017 - Justice Arumughasamy assumes charge as head of the one-man inquiry commission
November 22, 2017 - First witness, DMK leader P Saravanan deposed before the commission
December 9, 2017 - Panel seeks extension of tenure by six months
December 20, 2017 - Disqualified MLA P Vetrivel released a 20-second video of Jaya in her hospital room
December 21, 2017 - Summons sent to Sasikala, who is lodged in the Parappana Aghrahara Jail in Bengaluru
December 25, 2017 - O Panneerselvam claimed in public that neither he nor any other minister met Jayalalithaa during her hospitalisation
January 12, 2018 - Apollo Hospitals submitted 30 volumes of documents on the health of and treatment provided to Jayalalithaa
February 21, 2018 - Former MP Manoj Pandian became the first AIADMK leader to depose before the commission
March 12, 2018 - Sasikala filed affidavit with the Arumughasamy commission
March 22, 2018 - Apollo Chairman Dr Pratap Reddy said that the CCTV cameras in the ward were switched off during Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation
March 28, 2018 - Cross-examination of witnesses by Sasikala’s counsel Raja Senthoor Pandian began
April 7, 2018 - Former chief secretaries Sheela Balakrishnan and Rama Mohana Rao appeared before the commission
April 30, 2018 - AIADMK’s Anoor Jegadeesan appeared of own accord, said no party member was allowed to meet Jayalalithaa
May 2, 2018 - Dr Sivakumar appeared for
the third time, contradicted governor’s account of Jayalalithaa acknowledging his presence
May 26, 2018 - Commission requests a six month extension of tenure
May 26, 2018 - Unedited audio tapes of Jayalalithaa recorded by Dr Sivakumar and handwritten diet chart leaked
June 9, 2018 - Nilofar Kafeel refutes Sivakumar’s claims of her having met Jayalalithaa
June 23, 2018 - Inquiry commission granted an extension of four months, term to end on October 24, 2018
July 29, 2018 - Lawyers from the inquiry commission visited Apollo Hospitals
August 16, 2018 - Summons sent to AIIMS doctors
August 23 & 24, 2018 - AIIMS doctors deposed before the commission and underwent cross-examination
September 8, 2018 - Commission asked Apollo Hospitals to submit CCTV footage
September 11, 2018 - Apollo informed the commission that CCTV footage has been overwritten and is unavailable. Ramesh Chand Meena, Principal Secretary to then governor Vidyasagar Rao, appeared before the commission
September 19, 2018 - Questions sent to the office of the governor and chief secretary and procedures followed