Chennai: Since Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was hospitalised on September 22, her party has fought to correct the perception that she is seriously unwell, a perspective that gained from frequent, lengthy gaps in the medical updates that her doctors provided.
- Jayalalithaa in hospital since September 22, recovering well
- 4 trusted bureaucrats, 2 aides handling governance: sources
- Chief Minister is fit, is taking decisions in hospital: AIADMK
Each interregnum in the hospital bulletins garnered new talk, much of it from political opponents, that the 68-year-old politician is far more critically ill than acknowledged by her party, the AIADMK, which maintains that her problems are confined to fever and dehydration. Tamil Nadu Governor, C Vidyasagar Rao, who visited her on Saturday evening, confirmed that she is "recovering well".
This evening, Apollo Hospital said the leader is better, but remains on respiratory support and is advised to remain there for a few more days. Over the weekend, it confirmed that a UK specialist in sepsis, an infection of the bloodstream and a serious medical condition, was flown in to supervise her recovery.
Given the paucity of verifiable information, it is quite likely, suggest those in the know, that temporary charge of decision-making rests with a core team of bureaucrats, who even in ordinary times have been Jayalalithaa's preferred mode of governance.
Unlike other states, the Tamil Nadu government has a centralised structure, with the Chief Minister's office (CMO) holding virtually all decision-making power. Here, four private secretaries (numbered P.S. 1 through 4) are tasked with overseeing all 54 government departments.
They in turn report to the Chief Secretary and also to Sheela Balakrishnan, the official adviser to the Chief Minister, a long-time trusted aide.
An AIADMK official who wished to remain unnamed suggested "this team of 6", who have also been visiting the hospital, are believed to be in charge for now.
Also present at the hospital, Sasikala Natarajan, Ms Jayalalithaa's close associate, as well as senior AIADMK ministers like O Paneerselvam, who was her stand-in when the politician was arrested on corruption charges in 2014. She returned to office after being acquitted.
Opposition leaders like the DMK's M Karunanidhi have urged the Chief Minister's party to release a photograph to prove she is not critical. The party said it does not feel the need to do so, and filed four police cases against people who misreported her health on social media.
The AIADMK also said that the Chief Minister is fit enough to monitor Tamil Nadu's seething war with neighbour Karnataka over its share of water from the River Cauvery, and has, from her hospital bed, dictated crucial statements to be presented at meetings on the dispute.