It has been three weeks since Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa got admitted to the Apollo Hospitals in Chennai. Although she was admitted for fever and dehydration, there were rumours about the chief minister's failing health. Later, the press statements from the hospital said she is on respiratory support and passive physiotherapy.
While rumours about her ill health have been cut down with several arrests and police actions, politicians, right from BJP President Amit Shah, Finance Minister to Arun Jaitley, AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to her arch-rival M Karunanidhi’s son and Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly opposition leader M.K. Stalin drove down to the hospital in central Chennai to enquire about her health.
As her stay in the hospital continues, the list of visitors making a beeline at the hospital, not surprisingly, is getting longer. On October 14, there was an unusual visitor. It was Rajathi Ammal, Karunanidhi’s second wife and DMK’s Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi’s mother. Rajathi, according to sources, did not meet Jayalalithaa, but had a 30-minute meeting with the CM's close friend Sasikala Natarajan who is in the hospital, taking care of Jayalalithaa.
Rajathi was the second person from the DMK family to visit the hospital. A week ago, when Stalin went to the hospital with his father M Karunanidhi’s trusted lieutenants Duraimurugan and K Ponmudi, it was seen as a friendly gesture. Stalin was also prompt to call on O Panneerselvam when the latter was redesignated with Jayalalithaa’s portfolios, which was again perceived as a political routine as the two reportedly share a rapport.
It may be recalled that when Jayalalithaa took over as chief minister for the sixth time, Stalin attended her swearing-in ceremony even though he was offered a seat in the sixteenth row. Later, Jayalaithaa wrote to him clarifying the seating arrangements.
All these are new for a state like Tamil Nadu, where the leaders of ruling and opposition parties do not share any rapport. There have been incidents of AIADMK ministers exiting through backdoor after they spotted VIPs from DMK at public events. They would not sit next to each other in an aircraft or in the parliament lobby or talk to each other if they happen to run into each other in the assembly canteen.
The politics in the state is so personalised that K.P. Shanmuga Rajeswaran, who was Jayalalithaa’s blue eyed boy in the police department, was shunted out of plum portfolios during AIADMK’s regime in 2011-2016 after his son got married to Karunanidhi’s granddaughter. In another instance, AIADMK’s senior most leader and present Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha Thambidurai did not dare to attend his own daughter’s wedding in 2012 because the bridegroom was the son of a local congress leader.
Considering these, Rajathi's meeting with Sasikala was nothing short of a surprise for politicians in the state. While it is said this move was to counter Stalin, or DMK’s first family, Sasikala welcoming Rajathi has raised many eyebrows in both the parties. Although it is a known fact that Sasikala's marriage with Natarajan’s was solemnised by Karunanidhi decades ago, Rajathi or anyone from the DMK family had not had such an open meeting with Jayalalithaa’s close aide.
At the same time, according to highly placed sources in the AIADMK, it is not possible to overlook the political acumen Sasikala developed under Jayalalithaa. “She had been with Amma for so many years and she knows what Amma wants or would look for. More than that, she is always known to be the number two in AIADMK operating everything from behind, which our leader had endorsed,” a senior leader said.
When there are many possibilities for a back door meeting, the question why Sasikala dared to entertain Rajathi or why Rajathi decided to call on Sasikala remains unanswered.