Sasikala recounts Jayalalithaa stay in hospital, from Cauvery meeting to devotional songs

The written statement VK Sasikala filed with the Arumughaswamy panel vividly described J Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation and death.

ByShilpa Nair

Published Oct 19, 2022 | 8:26 PM Updated Oct 20, 2022 | 9:48 AM

Jayalalithaa-in-hospital-20_12

“One of the doctors asked me to loudly say ‘Akka’ (meaning sister, and referring to J Jayalalithaa) near her ears, and I started to shout. She saw me twice. Then Akka closed her eyes. The doctors who treated Akka said that she had a sudden heart attack, and asked me to go out immediately. I screamed in unbearable anxiety and fainted.”

This is how VK Sasikala, a close confidante of the late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, described the last moments of her “elder sister” in a written statement to the Retired Justice Arumughaswamy Commission of Inquiry.

The report of the commission, which was constituted by the previous AIADMK government to probe the circumstances around the death of the leader, was tabled in the Tamil Nadu Assembly by the DMK government on Tuesday, 18 October.

Though many have questioned the nature of the findings and recommendations made by the commission — such as seeking another investigation against Sasikala, Dr KS Sivakumar (a relative of Sasikala who was the personal doctor of Jayalalithaa), former health minister Dr C Vijayabhaskar, former health secretary Dr J Radhakrishnan, Dr YVC Reddy, Dr Babu Abraham, and former chief secretary Dr Ram Mohan Rao — what the report made evidently clear was the sequence of events leading to and after the hospitalisation of the then AIADMK chief.

This is important because the 75-day hospitalisation of Jayalalithaa at the Apollo Hospitals in Chennai was shrouded in mystery, and very little information was released to the public about her actual health condition.

This led to rumours and conspiracy theories being spread about her death, and even why she fell sick in the first place.

Amongst the other details in the report, the affidavit filed by Sasikala while she was lodged in the Bengaluru central prison — after being sentenced in a disproportionate assets case — vividly described the events around Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation and death.

Her account assumes significance as she had the maximum access to the late chief minister at all times.

Here are some excerpts:

DA case conviction affected Jaya’s health

According to Sasikala, at a time when Jayalalithaa had achieved many things — such as making Tamil Nadu a “model state” for the rest of the country and strengthening the AIADMK to the point where it was the third-largest party in Parliament — the “unexpected moment” of the Bengaluru Special Court convicting the former chief minister, Sasikala and her relatives in a disproportionate assets case in September 2014 negatively impacted Jayalalithaa’s health.

Sasikala pointed out that the corruption case burdened Jayalalithaa not only with “severe mental stress” but also with a “huge black mark” and “huge disappointment”, and that it “haunted” her throughout.

“Due to this, already-existing high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels (of Jayalalithaa) had risen. Due to the high mental pressure, Akka’s health deteriorated time and again,” Sasikala noted in her affidavit.

Even when the Karnataka High Court set aside their convictions, and even as it was challenged before the Supreme Court, Jayalalithaa’s health kept deteriorating from time to time, due to which various specialists visited her Poes Garden residence in Chennai for treatment.

Jayalalithaa was at the forefront of the 2016 Assembly election. (Supplied)

Sasikala recalled that the former chief minister suffered from occasional diarrhoea for several years, which became more frequent due to mental stress towards the end of 2014.  Due to the persistent issue, Jayalalithaa had to wear diapers.

Around the same time, Jayalalithaa started developing an itchy sensation all over her body, for which the doctors apparently advised her to switch to a “stress-free and depression-free” lifestyle.

By February-March, 2016, she started developing difficulties in walking, which became hard to deal with, especially ahead of the Assembly elections in May 2016.

“Due to that, I took care of the necessary arrangements, like steps leading down from her vehicle, the handrails avoiding stairs, the special chair, the arrangements for the ceremony, and the stage. Likewise, I have been making arrangements for Akka at Poes Garden,” Sasikala recounted.

She further stated that the reason Jayalalithaa chose to fight the elections for the second time from the RK Nagar constituency in Chennai instead of choosing another Assembly segment in the state was also because of her ailing health.

Why Apollo Hospital?

Explaining why they chose to get Jayalalithaa admitted to Apollo Hospitals when she fell sick, Sasikala stated that both of them underwent medical tests at Apollo every three months, and that the late chief minister had “great faith in the high-quality treatment” of the hospital. Besides, most of the doctors — at least 10 — who treated her from 2014 were from Apollo.

Interestingly, Sasikala told the probe panel that Jayalalithaa had a habit of making her own notes about her medical parameters, such as sugar levels, and blood pressure levels.

She even wrote down what she ate and when, said Sasikala.

She also personally maintained a separate note for her doctors to write the medical reports on their own after visiting her at Poes Garden.

Before the Assembly elections, Sasikala also took videos of the treatment, purportedly on the instructions of Jayalalithaa herself.

Days before hospitalisation

According to Sasikala, Jayalalithaa started getting “blisters, itching, and psoriasis in many parts of her body” in June 2016. There was some relief from the skin issues after she took steroids based on the advice of her doctors.

At this stage, on 19 September, 2016, Jayalalithaa developed a fever. Two days later, despite running a high fever, the former chief minister insisted that she participate in a Metro Rail event, which the then Union minister Venkaiah Naidu was also attending. As per Sasikala’s affidavit, Jayalalithaa fell “seriously ill” after returning home from the event.

On 22 September, 2016, upon seeing her “sister” very fatigued, Sasikala compelled Jayalalithaa to go to a hospital.

“Even then Akka angrily told me, ‘I’ll be fine if I sleep. If I go there, they’ll tell me to get admitted. That is not required’. No matter how much I asked Akka, she did not agree to go to the hospital,” Sasikala recollected.

At around 9.30 pm that night, Jayalalithaa felt giddy while coming out of the bathroom after brushing her teeth, and purportedly called Sasikala for support. All of a sudden, she fainted while leaning on the shoulder of Sasikala.

By then, Dr Sivakumar had entered the room. Sasikala pressed the calling bell and shouted for someone inside the house to come for help.

Meanwhile, according to Sasikala, “Dr Sivakumar rubbed Akka’s hands and feet and warmed her up, and asked for arranging immediate emergency medical aid by contacting Vijayakumar Reddy, husband of Preetha Reddy, Managing Director of Apollo Hospitals, stating that the ‘Chief Minister has suddenly fallen ill, urgent medical assistance is required, immediately make arrangements’.”

Narrating the sequence of events, Sasikala further said: “I was nervous and called, ‘Akka, Akka,’ but Akka did not open her eyes. On hearing my loud voice from the ground floor, her security guards Veeraperumal and Kandasamy, her driver Kannan, and some other security guards came to Akka’s room. We tried to get her to sit in her chair and bring her downstairs from the first floor. In the meantime, Sivakumar was giving Akka the necessary first aid. I was tensed to see Akka faint… In about 10-15 minutes, ambulances from two Apollo Hospitals (from Greams Road and Teynampet) came to Poes Garden.”

As traffic was restricted, the ambulance carrying Jayalalithaa reached the Apollo Hospitals within 10-15 minutes, by 10.20 pm. While it was taking the turn to the hospital located at Greams Road, Jayalalithaa apparently woke up and enquired about where she was.

“It was then that I felt alive and replied to Akka, ‘We are going to Apollo Hospital. Don’t worry.’ Akka held my hand tightly with her fingers,” she said.

Immediately after reaching the hospital, Jayalalithaa was admitted to the emergency ward. Her condition improved after treatment. Later that night, she was shifted from the emergency ward to the second-floor MDCCU section.

By then, chief secretary Ram Mohan Rao, chief minister’s advisor Sheela Balakrishnan, her private secretaries, personal security officials, police officers, and others reached the hospital, and Jayalalithaa nodded her head while all of them greeted her at the doorway of the emergency section.

Chairing a Cauvery issue meeting in hospital

The day after she was admitted to the hospital, Jayalalithaa started “talking well”, and told the doctors that she wanted to return home that night as she had a lot of “government duties” to take care of.

However, the doctors insisted that she stay in the hospital for a few more days, and told her that she would be discharged once she was completely recovered.

That day, when she was taken for a scan, Jayalalithaa looked at her security guards who were there at the hospital and asked them not to worry.

“I am fine. Nobody has to worry. The doctors told me to stay here for a few days; shortly will go home,” she was quoted as saying to her security guards.

This interaction, according to Sasikala, was also watched from a distance by former ministers O Pannerselvam, Dr C Vijayabhaskar and the then deputy speaker of Rajya Sabha Thambidurai.

In the subsequent days, Jayalalithaa met and interacted with government officers in the presence of doctors and nurses.

Interestingly, at 4.30 pm on 27 September, 2016, she attended a meeting for close to an hour with top officials — such as chief secretary Ram Mohan Rao, her advisor Sheela Balakrishnan, her two personal secretaries, and Advocate General R Muthukumaraswamy — on the Cauvery River water dispute issue in the room where she was being treated.

“During that time, I, Sivakumar, doctors, and the nurses were a bit away from them. Akka was advising the officers who attended the meeting. Notes were taken by the officers as instructed by Akka. Akka herself manually made some corrections. Akka inquired about the health condition of Public Prosecutor Muthukumarasamy who arrived a little late for the meeting,” Sasikala said in her affidavit.

However, that night, Jayalalithaa had trouble “talking and breathing”. Her medical team decided to let her breathe through a ventilator. Accordingly, she was put on a ventilator on 28 September.

Later, to prevent infections, the hospital management prevented visitors from entering Jayalalithaa’s room. They could see her through the glass of the room. It was then, on 1 October, that then Governor Vidya Sagar Rao went to the hospital to enquire about her health.

Importantly, according to Sasikala, higher officials, state ministers, health secretary Dr J Radhakrishnan, and key AIADMK executives would attend the daily presentation by the Apollo Hospital management on Jayalalithaa’s treatment. She further claimed that EPS, OPS, and most of the ministers were part of the briefing.

More health complications

As Jayalalithaa developed more health complications, Sasikala asked her medical team about it, to which they said that the former chief minister had “contracted infection because of prolonged wearing and use of diaper, and such infection in the urinary tract may have got mixed with the blood”.

Later on, doctors from the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences visited Jayalalithaa in the hospital and kept advising and helping the team that was treating her. On their advice, Jayalalithaa underwent a tracheostomy on 7 October to prevent further infection.

Likewise, on the “advice of the Apollo Hospitals on the health condition of the AIADMK supremo”, it was decided to bring in Dr Richard Beale from London to treat her.

The medical protocol suggested by Beale and the team of doctors from AIIMS and Apollo did help in improving the health of Jayalalithaa in the following days.

Sasikala claimed that Beale, after being satisfied with the treatment, stated that there was no need to take her to a foreign country for treatment, and purportedly praised Apollo for giving “high-class treatment with highly advanced equipment” to Jayalalithaa.

Further, a physiotherapy team of doctors from Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore was also called to Chennai to assist the Apollo team in its treatment plan.

Then, about 10 days after the tracheostomy, Jayalalithaa wanted the food tube that was fitted to be removed. She purportedly told the doctors that it was “uncomfortable”. Following this, the tube was removed and the doctors permitted her to consume food orally.

“Small quantities of items like idli, pongal, and vada from the kitchen of the Apollo Hospital were given under medical supervision, as per Akka‟s wish,” Sasikala stated.

Of devotional songs, her favourite deities, and green plants

When Jayalalithaa was admitted to the MDCCU ward, according to Sasikala, her assistant Kartikeyan put her favourite devotional songs on a USB drive and gave it to the AIADMK chief, who listened to them from time to time.<

Further, when she started speaking fluently after the tracheostomy, Jayalalithaa mentioned the names of her favourite deities. Kartikeyan immediately took colour printouts of the images of the deities and pasted them near her bed and on walls for her to see.

Similarly, to make her feel more comfortable, Sasikala said that she put up plastic plants near Jayalalithaa’s room so that the greenery would be “appealing for her eyes”. Also, based on the former chief minister’s wish and approval from the hospital, a TV and a set-top box were put in the ward for her, which she used to watch the “Jai Veera Hanuman” TV serial. She was also supposedly shown videos of AIADMK workers, ministers, and other leaders speaking about her health.

As for her visitors, Jayalalithaa refused to see most of them, and purportedly said that she would meet them all once she was back home.

“I didn’t meet anyone after I was released on bail from the Bengaluru jail. I saw everyone only after the acquittal order passed by the Karnataka High Court. Likewise, I will see everyone when I get back to Poes Garden in perfect health. I’ll invite the partymen there and meet them. Till then, no one needs to come and meet me,” she was quoted as saying by Sasikala.

At the hospital, her room was manned by two nurses on a shift basis. There was also a doctor and a nurse in the adjacent room for providing 24-hour treatment and observation. Individuals who were permitted to see her were allowed to do so only through the glass of the room. Her room was also monitored on a shift basis by her security.

Through the course of Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation, Sasikala stated that she took videos of the treatment given to her based on the former’s instructions.

Sasikala, in her affidavit, further pointed out that every time she suggested to Jayalalithaa about going abroad for treatment, she reportedly rejected the idea.

“I’m fine. I have just started walking and exercising, that and all is not required,” the AIADMK chief allegedly said.

Tamil Nadu bypolls amid hospitalisation

In between her hospitalisation, the Election Commission of India notified the by-elections for the Aravakurichi, Thanjavur, and Thiruparankundram Assembly constituencies, and Jayalalithaa announced Senthil Balaji, Rengasamy, and Bose as the respective candidates.

According to Sasikala, as Jayalalithaa’s hands were swollen, she affixed her thumb impression on Form A and Form B of the candidates in the presence of government doctor Dr Balaji. The forms were then handed over to the concerned election officers by AIADMK leader Madhusudhanan. All three candidates of the AIADMK won the elections on 19 November, 2016.

It may be noted that a huge controversy had broken out when it came to light that Jayalalithaa had affixed her thumb impression as opposed to signing the election papers. Several rumours were floated about her health condition at the time.

Interestingly, in November, Sasikala claimed that the former chief minister wrote a note to hand over to the AIADMK MPs on how to act in the interest of Tamil Nadu against the activities of the Central government in Parliament at the time.

With her health improving, Jayalalithaa wanted to be discharged from the hospital on 29 December, 2016. According to Sasikala, the doctors too agreed.

Accordingly, arrangements were made at Poes Garden to set up a lift large enough to prevent her from using the stairs. Likewise, a big table and seat were made for her to do her physiotherapy. Clothes for her medical treatment were also stitched.

Her last moments

A group of doctors delivers the news of Jayalalithaa's death in December 2016. (Supplied)

Photo of the press briefing by the group of doctors who treated Jayalalithaa. (Supplied)

When things were going on smoothly, Jayalalithaa suffered a health setback on 4 December.

Around 4.20 pm that day, a nurse brought a bun and coffee for Jayalalithaa at her request. However, she said that she would eat it once she was done watching a TV serial.

After the serial, when Sasikala tried to take the food trolley near Jayalalithaa, the former chief minister exhibited tremors all over her body.

“Akka’s tongue was protruding, and Akka shouted something while gnashing her teeth. As soon as I started shouting, ‘Akka, Akka’, she looked at me and raised both her arms towards me. As I screamed, I jumped and caught Akka. Looking at me, Akka leaned on the bed. The doctors and nurses started giving hurried treatment,” Sasikala recounted.

Specialist doctors rushed to the room. One of them suggested that Sasikala call Jayalalithaa’s name in her ear. Accordingly, she shouted “akka” several times. According to Sasikala, though Jayalalithaa looked at her twice, she closed her eyes again.

When a doctor informed her that the AIADMK chief had suffered a cardiac arrest, Sasikala fainted. When she regained consciousness, Jayalalithaa was on ECMO and intensive treatments were being given to her. Numerous doctors also came and checked on her. The AIIMS team and Beale were also kept in the loop.

Despite all their best efforts, there was no improvement in the health of Jayalalithaa until the night of 5 December, 2016. She passed away at 11.30 pm.

“The doctors reluctantly gave the shocking news that there would be no progress hereafter. The AIIMS medical team and Beale told me that they had arrived at the same conclusion. On knowing about Akka’s demise, I screamed and fainted,” Sasikala said while recalling the final moments of her Jayalalithaa.