It’s been two years to the day since former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa passed away, after battling for her life in hospital for 74 days. But we are no closer to putting her death behind us, with the circumstances surrounding her hospitalisation and her final days still under investigation.
The Justice A Arumughaswamy Commission, which was constituted by the Tamil Nadu government on September 24, 2017 to probe Jayalalithaa’s death, has cross-examined multiple people – doctors and technicians at Apollo Hospitals where she was admitted; and the former CM’s staff – over the course more than a year. On Jayalalithaa’s second death anniversary, TNM takes a look back at some of the key depositions, affidavits and evidence submitted before the Commission.
Jayalalithaa’s close aide VK Sasikala, who is presently serving sentence in the Disproportionate Assets case, is yet to depose before the Commission; however, she filed a 55-page affidavit on March 12 detailing the events that led to the former CM’s hospitalisation.
In her affidavit, Sasikala recalls that an unwell Jayalalithaa had refused to be hospitalised earlier in the day on September 22, 2016. However, around 9.30 pm the same day, Jayalalithaa complained of uneasiness, and fell unconscious soon after. Sasikala’s relative Dr Sivakumar, who is a plastic surgeon at Apollo Hospitals, called Vijay Kumar Reddy, the husband of Apollo Hospitals’ Vice Chairperson Preetha Reddy. Jayalalithaa, who regained consciousness in the ambulance that was on the way to Apollo Hospital, demanded to know where she was being taken.
Sasikala also said in her affidavit that Jayalalithaa had a history of illnesses and her health had taken a turn for the worse following her 22-day imprisonment for the Disproportionate Assets case in 2014. She noted that the case, whose final judgement came over a month after Jayalalithaa’s demise, was a constant source of stress for the late leader. According to The Hindu, Sasikala had submitted to the Commission a list of 20 doctors who had treated Jayalalithaa between November 2014 and September 2016.
The former aide also rebutted allegations that no one was allowed to meet Jayalalithaa during her hospitalisation, stating that then-Governor Vidyasagar Rao, then-Tamil Nadu Finance Minister O Panneerselvam, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha Thambidurai, and Health Minister Vijayabaskar were among those who saw her. The Hindu reports that Sasikala submitted four video clips of Jayalalithaa being treated in 2015 and 2016, and also four other video files of the leader at Apollo Hospitals.
Video clips, audio files and handwritten notes
On December 20, 2017, a day before the RK Nagar bye-elections, a video clip of a frail Jayalalithaa sitting on a hospital bed, was released to the media by MLA Vetrivel, who belongs to TTV Dhinakaran’s camp. With Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and Deputy CM O Panneerselvam casting aspersions on Sasikala, Vetrivel said the video was released to dispel rumours surrounding Jayalalithaa’s death.
The video showed Jayalalithaa wearing two plaits and with a BP monitor attached to her arm, sitting up on a bed, drinking from a glass and presumably watching TV. The clip was later submitted by Vetrivel to the Commission.
On May 26 this year, the Commission released two audio recordings of the late CM and handwritten notes of Jayalalithaa to the media. The two-page note in Jayalalithaa’s handwriting was a meticulous list of her weight, what she ate from the time she began her day until dinner. The two pages that were released were part of a 98-page book that was submitted by Dr Sivakumar to the Commission.
Sasikala’s counsel Raja Senthur Pandian had then told TNM, “As per Sasikala madam’s affidavit, she has stated categorically that Jayalalithaa madam was in the practice of writing down her own medical things – what food, what time and what was her sugar level. She was recording everything periodically. The purpose of such recording by her handwriting is to show the document to the doctors and specialists who are visiting her and take their advice about blood circulation and blood fluctuation that she was recording.”
The 52-second audio clip that was also released by the Commission had a coughing Jayalalithaa cracking a joke to her doctor about the blood pressure machine. When the doctor informs Jayalalithaa that her blood pressure is high at 140 by 80, the then-CM says, “It’s okay for me. Normal.”
The audio clip was confirmed by Dr Archana from Apollo Hospitals when she was cross-examined by Sasikala’s counsel at the Commission.
The Justice Arumughaswamy Commission has recorded the statements of several doctors, nurses and technicians who helped treat Jayalalithaa between September 22, 2016 and December 5, 2016.
Deposing before the Commission last month, Dr N Ramakrishnan, the Director of Critical Care Medicine at Apollo Hospitals, said that a US-based cardiologist had suggested a coronary angiogram for the former CM, reported The Hindu. Dr Samin K Sharma, a professor of cardiology at Mount Sinai Hospital in the US, had examined Jayalalithaa on November 25, 2016 and suggested an angiogram the same day. However, Dr Ramakrishnan stated that the procedure was not undertaken after consulting with a team of doctors including UK-based intensivist Dr Richard Beale. This, as the risks outweighed the benefits.
In July 2018, echocardiogram technician Nalini told the Justice Arumughaswamy Commission that an echocardiogram test was done on Jayalalithaa at 3.50 pm on December 4, reported Economic Times. Her deposition not only indicated that Jayalalithaa’s health was deteriorating prior to the massive cardiac arrest she suffered at 4.20 pm that day, but also contradicted the Apollo Hospitals health records of the then-CM.
Nalini had in her deposition stated that when she rushed into the room with ECG equipment at 3.50 pm, the doctors were already attempting to revive the then-CM by massaging her heart. According to the Apollo Hospitals treatment summary, Jayalalithaa, who was watching television, complained of worsening breathlessness with her nurses, duty doctors and family members present in the room. The hospital records state that the CM suffered a cardiac arrest at 4.20 pm, following which an ECG was undertaken, CPR was performed and defibrillation was done.
Jayalalithaa was soon put on the ECMO device. Dr T Sunder, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Apollo Hospitals, told the Commission that Jayalalithaa had a gag reflex at 4.30 pm on December 5 – seven hours before she was declared dead, reported The Hindu. It was this “sign of life” that made the team of doctors monitoring her health to keep her on the ECMO device. Times of India reported that Dr Sunder was one of three doctors on the ECMO team, who was called in after Jayalalithaa’s cardiac arrest on December 4. He, however, went on to state the CM had to be disconnected from the device as her heart never revived.
Two years on, the Justice Arumughaswamy Commission is still piecing together the events that led to the 68-year-old leader’s death. While it had sought a four-month extension in October, the Commission hopes to submit its final report before Jayalalithaa’s 71st birth anniversary on February 24.
Over a year after Jaya’s death, mystery deepens as gaps in narrative emerge
Why wasn’t Jayalalithaa taken abroad for treatment?: Panel probing former CM’s death
CCTV footage during Jaya hospitalisation overwritten: Apollo Hospitals to probe panel
Source: The News Minute