CHENNAI: Nine months after former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa died in a Chennai hospital after a prolonged illness, Forest Minister Dindigul C Sreenivasan has asked for the public's forgiveness for lying about her health when she was at hospital.
- He says ministers were not allowed to meet Jayalalithaa in hospital
- Comments is seen to target Sasikala who was at hospital with Jayalalithaa
- Last month,government had announced inquiry commission to probe her death
"None of us saw Jayalalithaa when she was hospitalised... We were forced to lie," Mr Sreenivasan said at a recent party meeting, remarks that are seen as pointing fingers at VK Sasikala, her long-time companion who took over the party after Jayalalithaa's death in December last year.
"We would have told lies that she (Jayalalithaa) had idlis (steamed rice cakes), and people met her. The truth is that nobody saw her," the minister said.
Sasikala was set to take charge as the Chief Minister too but was packed off to a Bengaluru jail instead by the Supreme Court that convicted her in an assets case. Before heading for jail, she got O Panneerselvam to step down from the Chief Minister's chair in February and appointed E Palaniswami as Chief Minister. She had named nephew TTV Dhinakaran as her proxy to lead the party.
But O Panneerselvam, or OPS, the soft-spoken politician hand-picked by Jayalalithaa to stand in for her when she was convicted in a corruption case earlier, decided to fight back. It is around this time that OPS first raised questions about the circumstances around Jayalalithaa's illness, and her death.
Mr Sreenivasan's points are in line with what has already been outed by OPS and others. As he struggled to retain the Chief Minister's chair in February, OPS too had spoken how he had never been allowed to meet Jayalalithaa during her stay at hospital and demanded an inquiry by a sitting Supreme Court judge into her death. His camp suggested that she was poisoned, a charge denied by her doctors.
Mr Sreenivasan's speech at the party meet makes it clear that OPS was not the only one disallowed from meeting Jayalalithaa. Everyone was.
"Even high profile dignitaries including Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi did not visit Jayalalithaa, but only met the hospital chairman," the forest minister said.
The minister is the third AIADMK veteran to point fingers at the Sasikala-Dhinakaran team. Before OPS spoke, another senior AIADMK leader PH Pandian had suggested that the former Chief Minister's death was "not from natural causes". The AIADMK and the state government had then dismissed the doubts and accused the two leaders of trying to spread confusion in the party.
Last month, the E Palaniswami government finally announced the decision to set up an inquiry commission to probe Jayalalithaa's death to pave the way for the AIADMK's reunion with the rebel faction led by OPS. They also decided to turn Jayalalithaas's Poes Garden home in Chennai into a memorial.
Mr Dhinakaran had welcomed the announcement. "We welcome judicial and CBI inquiry to probe whether Sasikala and I are responsible for Amma's death," he said after meeting rebel lawmakers sequestered at a Karnataka resort. Mr Dinakaran claims even Sasikala was not allowed to meet Jayalalithaa in the last days of her life over fears of infection.