A retail shop owner was arrested in Thoothukudi district for allegedly spreading rumours about Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s health on Wedensday. The cyber cell police arrested Sagayam after he posted comments in his Facebook page about Jayalalithaa’s health. Sagayam has been brought from Thoothukudi to Chennai for further enquiry.
With Sagayam, a total of eight people have been arrested for allegedly spreading rumours and misinformation about Jayalalithaa’s health condition. On October 4, the Central Crime Branch (CCB) of Chennai police booked a case against Thamizhachi, who lived in France, for writing in her Facebook page about Jayalalithaa’s illness. The case was registered based on a complaint by an AIADMK functionary. On October 10, Chennai police arrested two people for circulating messages about Jayalalithaa’s health and illness in social media platforms. One of them, a software engineer, was running a website and is said to have uploaded false information on Jayalalithaa’s health, according to police sources. Again on October 12, Thirumani Selvam from Thoothukudi and Balasundaram from Pammal were picked up by the CCB for allegedly spreading rumours. On October 13, the Coimbatore police picked up two bank employees- a clerk and a jewellery appraiser, R Suresh and L Ramesh, based on a complaint filed by AIADMK functionary called Punitha Devi who overheard their mocking remarks about Jayalalithaa’s health.
At least 55 cases have been registered by the police in Tamil Nadu against people who have been spreading rumours or even talking about Jayalalithaa’s health in public platforms. While rumours swirl out and the police and government machinery are trying to end it with a slew of arrests, the absence of medical bulletins for the past 10 days has only added fuel to unfounded speculations.
Come 22nd October, it will be a month since the Chief Minister was hospitalised. In fact, a day after Jayalalithaa was hospitalised, on September 24, Apollo’s press release gave an impression that the Chief Minister was admitted for a minor illness and she was on normal diet. The next press statement issued on October 3 had a new word “respiratory support” which was looked at as a cause for concern. Consecutively, on October 5, Apollo issued their most detailed press release, highlighting the various treatments administered to Jayalalithaa and endorsed consulting a team of doctors from AIIMS and London-based Dr Richard Beale for her illness. It further said that she would require a “longer stay” in the hospital. The next statement on October 8 was the most crucial one, which said that “passive physiotherapy” was one of the treatments administered to her. The press statement on October 10 toed the lines of the earlier release.
However, after that, there have been several news reports on her health condition. The reports claimed that there were improvements and that a team of therapists from Singapore were treating her at Apollo. But the absence of medical bulletins and the hospital not maintaining a periodicity in issuing press statements, as it used to do usually when VIPs are hospitalised, have raised several questions and made rumours fly thick and fast.
While any person, be it a VIP or an ordinary person, is entitled to medical privacy, the chief minister’s medical ailments are strictly off the bounds of media and even the AIADMK party circles for that matter. Though several political leaders and top businessmen like Nita Ambani and Karan Adani visited Apollo to enquire about Jayalalithaa’s health, none of them have shared what her illness is. More specifically, the question is whether they were even updated by the doctors on the kind of ailment or the treatment administered.
Decades before, when MG Ramchandran was admitted to the hospital, there were no updates on what his ailment was. Later, only when things spiralled out of control and he was taken abroad for treatment, were pictures of him reading newspapers released. Jayalalithaa, who is perceived to be image-conscious, is also entitled to that privacy. Also, any report would dent the image that she had assiduously built up over the years as the most successful politician.
But given the fact that there had been no official word from the state government and her extended hospital stay, mass prayers and rituals performed by her party loyalists, the speculations about her ill-health refuse to die down despite several arrests. “To arrest people on charges of WhatsApp messages or Facebook posts is a gross abuse of authority. But we are bound to do it, because such messages will only spread public unrest in the state,” said a senior police officer on condition of anonymity.