Curtains soon for Jayalalithaa’s death panel, Sasikala’s one-prop version

Chenai: More than 150 witnesses have so far appeared before a commission of inquiry set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and its work is expected to be completed soon, more than four years after its incorporation.

VK Sasikala’s 2018 affidavit and the observations of Apollo Hospitals doctors who treated the late AIADMK supremo formed the pivot on which the panel largely turned to find answers to questions about the leader’s death.

In the process, no less than 158 witnesses testified before the commission, including Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa and nephew Deepak, doctors, senior officials and AIADMK’s C Vijayabaskar, M Thambi Durai, C Ponnaiyan and Manoj Pandian. Deepa and Deepak had expressed doubts about the circumstances surrounding their aunt’s death.

More than 100 witnesses were cross-examined, including those for Sasikala’s lawyer and the hospital’s lawyer on issues bearing on Jayalalithaa’s treatment.

Seven were witness petitioners, including Madurai-based P Saravanan, formerly of the DMK and now of the BJP. Sasikala’s relatives and Jayalalithaa’s cook, Rajammal, officials from IAS, IPS and paramedics were among others who testified before the panel.

While the panel’s work appears to be nearing completion, it should soon be clear whether or not lawyers for Sasikala or Apollo hospitals will make any further submissions. Then the work on submitting the report to the government would be taken over by the group.

On the political level, the deposition of the top leader of the AIADMK, O Panneerselvam (OPS), affirming that he has no suspicions as to Amma’s death and that he has personal respect and admiration for Sasikala, is a whispering indicator that the leadership may not end soon in the main opposition AIADMK.

The Arumughaswamy Commission of Inquiry, set up by the previous AIADMK government, began its hearing on November 22, 2017.

“It was Panneerselvam who had called for an inquest into Jayalalithaa’s death. His testimony to the panel that he has respect for Sasikala and that he has no suspicions about the death of the late AIADMK matriarch favored Sasikala and if whether or not it would help him politically remains to be seen,” political commentator M Bharat Kumar told PTI. However, this led to “some confusion” among some of the AIADMK workers, he added.

Kumar said: “Although the OPS appears to be in favor of considering Sasikala’s return, an action against party officials for supporting her shows the unmistakable influence of K Palaniswami in the AIADMK. While the Sasikala’s affidavit in the panel was an important feature, the OPS position reinforced it.”

After Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5, 2016, several questions and doubts were raised about his disappearance by a section of AIADMK officials and charges were leveled against Sasikala and his family.

Admitted on September 22, 2016 to Apollo Hospitals here, the former chief minister died after 75 days of treatment.

After receiving a summons, Sasikala, who was then in prison, filed an affidavit with the commission in March 2018, through his lawyer, who recounted the sequence of Jayalalithaa’s hospitalization and subsequent treatment in Apollo Hospitals. This formed an important basis for interviewing several witnesses.

Shortly after the panel was set up, Sasikala and Apollo hospitals were the first to be called in to provide information.

Opposing Sasikala after he resigned as chief minister in February 2017, PAHO demanded an investigation into Jayalalithaa’s death.

This was a key condition put forward by his faction for merging with top leader K Palaniswami’s camp. Several questions were raised by OPS supporters like Manoj Pandian, his late father PH Pandian on the circumstances leading to his death and they had opposed Sasikala.

After Jayalalithaa’s death, although Sasikala became Acting Secretary General, she had to go to jail in February 2017 to serve a four-year sentence as she was convicted in the disproportionate assets case.

As rival factions led by OPS and Palaniswami buried the hatchet in August 2017, she was ousted from the party and a related case is pending in court here.

She was released from prison last year and ahead of the April 2021 Assembly elections, Sasikala said she would stay away from politics.

However, after AIADMK lost power to DMK, it started taking clear steps to regain control of the party without success. OPS’ brother, O Raja, was recently kicked out of the party for supporting her.

In April 2019, the Supreme Court stayed the panel’s proceedings on an appeal by the hospital against an order from the Madras High Court.

The hospital, among others, had said the one-man panel lacked the expertise to deal with aspects related to medical treatment.

In December 2021, the Supreme Court ordered the establishment of a medical commission made up of specialists from AIIMS (Delhi) to assist the commission. Subsequently, the work of the panel resumed.