It was a night that would eventually re-chart the course of Tamil Nadu’s political history, bringing turmoil and uncertainty to a state used to strong leaders being at the helm of affairs.
Then chief minister and leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), J. Jayalalithaa, collapsed on September 22, 2016, was rushed to Apollo Hospital, Chennai at around 10 pm and hospitalised for 75 days.
Finally, on December 5, 2016, the 67-year-old chief minister breathed her last after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest.
What actually happened on the night of September 22 within the heavily guarded fortress that was Veda Nilayam in Poes Garden, the residence of the late chief minister?
The trove of depositions available with The Lede from the Arumughaswamy Commission throws some light on the events that led to Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation. The Commission begins its hearings again on Wednesday (January 2, 2019).
Flagging off the Chennai Metro Rail
The day before Jayalalithaa was hospitalised is the day she attended her last government function in her capacity as chief minister. She flagged off the second phase of the Chennai Metro Rail through video conferencing from the secretariat and returned home.
On September 22, 2016, according to multiple witnesses who work in Poes Garden, she did not stir from home.
“That whole day the chief minister did not leave the house,” C. Kannan, one of Jayalalithaa’s two drivers, deposed before the Arumughaswamy Commission on March 6, 2018.
Dr K. Sivakumar, Sasikala’s nephew and Jayalalithaa’s doctor, had gone to Sabarimala on September 17-18 that year. “When I was in Sabarimala, Sasikala told me that Amma had fever and I asked her to do some checks on Amma and also gave her the names of medicines to be taken,” said Dr Sivakumar in his deposition given on January 8, 2018.
Upon his return on September 19, he went to Poes Garden to give ‘prasadam’ to the chief minister and his aunt V.K. Sasikala. “Amma was busy with some other work, so she told me to hand over the ‘prasadam’ and come back later and I did as I was told,” he said.
The ill-fated day
On September 22, Jayalalithaa summoned Sivakumar at around 11 am. “She told me that she did not have fever and I returned to my clinic… I conducted a surgery on another patient at Apollo Hospital,” he said.
Sivakumar returned to Poes Garden that evening around 4 pm after being informed that Jayalalithaa had a slight fever, according to his testimony. “Amma told me that a girl working at the house had a fungal infection and asked me what the symptoms of such an infection were and I told her. She said that she had sent the girl to the doctor and stated with much misery that if she caught such an infection she would not be able to bear it,” said Sivakumar. He stated that he left Poes Garden at around 5 pm. He told the Commission that he left as Jayalalithaa was talking to him normally and he did not see any signs that anything was wrong.
That night though, all was not well.
Sivakumar said went to another clinic from Poes Garden, treated some more of his patients and reached his house in Neelangarai by around 7 pm.
“As I entered my house, Sasikala called me to say that Amma had fever and was coughing. I showered, had dinner and returned to Poes Garden by around 8.45 pm.”
Sivakumar arrived to find Jayalalithaa lying in bed, coughing and with a slight fever. “I held her feet and asked her about her health, but she asked me to leave. I told her I would stay and because she was having some trouble breathing. I called a person at Apollo Hospital and asked him to bring a nebuliser.
“Amma’s cough got worse and then she told me that she had to use the bathroom and walked to it by herself. I called Sasikala and asked her to assist Amma and I waited outside Sasikala’s room. After that Amma came out.
“Amma then went and sat down on her bed by herself. As she sat down, a terrible bout of coughing hit her and she simply fell onto Sasikala and me. I immediately called Preetha Reddy’s (executive vice chairperson of Apollo Hospital) husband Vijaykumar, explained the situation and asked him to send an ambulance immediately.”
Two other young girls, household help, were present when Jayalalithaa fainted, according to Sivakumar.
One went to yell for help to the other men in the house – PSO R. Veeraperumal and driver Kannan rushed in.
“I was sitting in my office room, working, when a policeman by the name of Thalavaai told me I was being called inside. A maid asked me to rush inside and when I reached Amma’s room, I found Inspector Kandhasamy, Dr Sivakumar and Sasikala there as Amma lay in bed. I shook her face a few times calling out “Amma, Amma” but she did not regain consciousness,” testified Veeraperumal on March 27, 2018 before the Commission.
The policemen attempted to lift Jayalalithaa and seat her on a chair to take her to the ground floor but it was not to be. By this time, her driver Kannan arrived on the scene.
“Chinnamma (Sasikala) told me that we have to carry Amma and take her to hospital. Veeraperumal joined us and we all attempted to lift the chair and carry her. We managed to carry her for two feet but she started to slide down and out of the chair, so we decided to place the chair down and carry her in the stretcher instead.”
To the hospital
By this time two ambulances had arrived and paramedics went to work on the unconscious chief minister. Within ten minutes, she had reached Apollo Hospital, according to Sivakumar, with Sasikala and Sivakumar riding with Jayalalithaa in the same ambulance and PSO Veeraperumal riding in the ambulance that followed. Driver Kannan followed the ambulances in one of Jayalalithaa’s cars.
“By 10.15 pm we admitted Amma in Emergency,” said Veeraperumal. By 10.30-10.35 pm, Jayalalithaa had regained consciousness, by all accounts, and was wheeled on the stretcher into the ward.
“When we were taking her to the ward after completing blood tests, ECG, echo and other tests, Amma opened her eyes, called me by name and asked where we were,” testified Sivakumar.
Veeraperumal concurred with this account. “Amma asked – “Where are we?” as she was wheeled to the elevator which would take her up to the ward,” he recalled.
It is in this ward, room 2008 on the second floor of Chennai’s Apollo Hospital where she would spend most of the last 75 days of her life.
Sandhya Ravishankar is a Chennai-based journalist.
This article was originally published on The Lede.