The word ‘mystery’ can easily be synonymous with former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. Even ‘Amma: Jayalalithaa’s Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen’ - journalist Vaasanthi’s biography of the enigma that the late AIADMK supremo was, asks more questions than answers. Even after a year, her death is as befuddling as the woman herself.
Months after Jayalalithaa passed away, one by one, more puzzles surrounding her death started tumbling out when AIADMK ministers supposedly found the courage to speak up against her closest (and maybe, only) confidante VK Sasikala, who is now languishing in a Bengaluru jail.
Many senior party leaders have in fact recently admitted that they had lied about Jayaalithaa’s health during the time she had been admitted at Apollo Hospital from September 22, 2016 until her death on December 5.
On August 17 this year, Chief Minister Edapaddi K Palaniswami announced an inquiry into Jayalalithaa’s death. Madras High Court judge A Arumugasamy is heading the investigation committee, which has been asked to submit a report by the end of this month.
Meanwhile, these five mind-boggling mysteries surrounding AIADMK’s ‘eternal’ General Secretary's death still keeps everyone guessing and coming up with conspiracy theories.
When exactly did Jayalalithaa die?
Although a press release from Apollo Hospitals fixes her time of death at 11:30 pm on December 5, 2016, earlier that evening at around 5:30, local media had already started putting out the news of her demise.
When AIADMK supporters started to panic and clash with the police outside Apollo Hospitals following the initial media reports, the hospital authorities immediately dismissed the news to be false. They issued an official press release stating that Jayalalithaa was continuing to receive treatment and was on life support.
The party flag was even seen flying at half mast at the AIADMK headquarters in Royapettah post the allegedly premature alerts of her death. The flag was hoisted back up again after Apollo’s press release.
There is still a lot of speculation about whether the initial reports were actually true and that the confirmation of death, which came close to midnight, was a measure to curb any law and order disruptions in the state.
KS Gita, who claims to be the granddaughter of Moturi Satyanarayana, a member of India’s first Constituent Assembly, said her mother Sarojini and Jayalalithaa’s mother Sandhya were close friends. The 50-something lawyer has been very vocal about her doubts about the death of her "good friend". She was inducted into the party by the late leader in December 1992 and had even filed a petition in court, seeking an investigation, but that petition was dismissed, as the magistrate ordered her to exhaust all options (such as the DGP and the home secretary) before moving court. Gita told TV channels last week that Jayalalithaa died the same night she was taken to hospital and that information had been deliberately suppressed.
How did she die?
Two months after Jayalalithaa’s death, in February 2017, when VK Sasikala held sway over the party, one of the senior AIADMK leaders, PH Pandian came out saying that Jayalalithaa had collapsed after she was pushed at her Poes Garden residence in Chennai, leading to her hospitalisation in September. Pandian, a former deputy speaker of the Tamil Nadu State Assembly, backed his claims by stating that Sasikala ‘did not even cry or mourn’ after Jayalalithaa’s death. He called for an investigation later.
Several media reports also suggested that Jayalalithaa may have been administered ‘slow poison’ in small doses over time or may have been given a ‘gradual overdose’ of her diabetes medicine by Sasikala before she was hospitalised. Although there is no evidence to substantiate them, these reports all quoted claims made by sources in the AIADMK party, who were reportedly close to Jayalalithaa.
What exactly ailed the ‘Iron lady’ of Tamil Nadu, and what was the treatment provided?
It is still baffling to many as to how Jayalalithaa’s ‘fever and dehydration’ escalated to her death in a month and a half. “The Chief Minister was drowsy and had difficulty breathing, but could speak when she was brought to Apollo hospital on September 22,” said the first medical report.
Dr Richard Beale, an intensivist from the London Bridge Hospital, who was called in to treat the former Tamil Nadu chief minister, has asserted that she was critically ill and died due to acute sepsis (a life-threatening complication of an infection) leading to eventual multiple organ failure.
“She was talking, eating, interacting for about a week but sepsis worsened. She got tired and sleepy and communicated only by signs. Diabetes made the infection severe. She could understand things though she could not speak during her last few days,” he was reported as saying to the media.
A photo of Jayalalithaa after her death with four dots on her cheeks had gone viral on social media accompanied by rumours of her having had an amputation or a transplant. However, later, Dr Beale explained that critically ill patients can sometimes get marks on the cheeks and that there was no such amputation or transplant done.
Dr Sudha Seshaiyyan, Director of Anatomy, Madras Medical College, who did the embalming for Jayalalithaa clarified to the media that she had checked after the procedure and that there were no leaks. Jayalalithaa's lips were swollen as she had been on ventilator. The doctor added that there were three or four ecchymotic dots during the embalming process (done to prevent the body from decaying and a foul smell from emanating), but they were not very deep and could not say how those dots looked to be very deep in the video that was circulated. Ecchymotic spots are caused by the escape of blood into the tissues from ruptured blood vessels.
A sudden cardiac arrest was given as the cause of Jayalalithaa's death on December 5. However, the complete details of her health condition during her 75-day stay at Apollo hospital is still largely a secret.
Many questions were raised about why she wasn’t given treatment abroad and why her photograph was not released to the media when she was at the hospital. Both questions were answered with the government, Sasikala and the doctors’ common reply - ‘It was against Jayalalithaa’s wish’. Can everything be taken at their word?
Idli or no idli? Who saw 'Amma' in her death bed?
As recently as September this year, Tamil Nadu Forest minister Dindigul Sreenivaasan, during a public rally in Madurai, came out with an apology to the public, saying that he and the other AIADMK ministers had been merely selling the ‘lies’ told by Sasikala. He said it was told to the public that, ‘Amma ate idlis and chutney, watched TV and chatted’, to make them believe that all was well.
Rebel AIADMK leader and Sasikala’s nephew, TTV Dhinakaran has repeatedly claimed that his aunt had shot a video of Jayalalithaa at the hospital and that they would present it as evidence, if required, as proof that she had indeed been active and recovering. “We did not release the video because the leader was in her night dress and did not wish those clips to come out,” he said.
Another AIADMK minister Vellamandi N Natarajan told reporters that Sasikala did not allow anyone to see Jayalalithaa during the whole 75-day period of her stay at Apollo hospital. “The truth is that none of us saw Jayalalithaa during that period of hospitalisation. We only saw her body when it was brought out of the hospital lift on December 4 at night,” the minister was quoted as saying.
Jayalalithaa's nephew Deepak Jayakumar had in an interview to a Tamil channel alleged that reports of her having eaten idli, and having shown a thumbs up to the Governor when he visited her were false, adding that he was present too at the time of the Governor's visit. He said that she was conscious only for about three days in the total 75 days when she was at Apollo. He also wondered why there was no Z plus security cover at the hospital because he had been able to go see her for around 60 days. He claimed that no minister saw her or asked to see her.
A forged speech and a forced thumb print?
At a meeting over the Cauvery river dispute in Delhi, the Tamil Nadu government had read out a speech ‘dictated’ by CM Jayalalithaa from her hospital bed, say several media reports. However, there is no evidence as of now to prove whether the speech was actually given by Jayalalithaa.
The AIADMK had also used her thumb impression in the nomination papers of three candidates during elections to two Assembly seats and bypolls to one seat in October 2016. It was reported that senior doctors had verified that the thumb impression was issued because Jayalalithaa had ‘undergone tracheostomy and that she had an inflamed right hand’.
However, the opposition, DMK in September 2017 went to the Madras High Court and questioned the veracity of the thumb impressions, asking for a probe to find out if Jayalalithaa was conscious and fully aware when the prints were taken. The High Court has since rapped the Election Commission of India over the matter and even summoned a senior EC official. It also directed the Superintendent of the Parappana Agrahara Central Prison in Bengaluru, where she was lodged for 21 days after her conviction by a trial court in Karnataka in the disproportionate assets case in September 2014, to appear in-person on December 8 and produce the thumbprints that would have been taken when she was lodged in prison.
On December 4, intensifying the Tamil Nadu government-ordered probe into the circumstances leading to her death, retired judge Arumughasamy, who heads the inquiry commission, sent summons to 60 people who knew information about Jayalalithaa to provide a statement in a written document.
Will the mysteries around Amma's demise die a mysterious death and answers remain as elusive as she was? Only time will tell.