Curtains soon for Jayalalithaa death panel, Sasikala\'s version a propeller

After Jaya\'s death in 2016, several questions and doubts were raised in connection with her demise by a section of AIADMK functionaries

Chennai: Over 150 witnesses have so far appeared before an inquiry commission probing the circumstances surrounding late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's death and its work is all set to be completed soon, more than four years after it was constituted.

V K Sasikala's affidavit of 2018 and submissions of doctors of the Apollo Hospitals that treated the late AIADMK supremo formed the pivot on which the panel largely revolved to find answers to questions on the leader's death.

In the process, as many as 158 witnesses have deposed before the commission, which includes Jayalalithaa's niece Deepa and nephew Deepak, doctors, top officials and AIADMK's C Vijayabaskar, M Thambi Durai, C Ponnaiyan and Manoj Pandian. Deepa and Deepak had raised doubts over circumstances surrounding their aunt's death.

Over 100 witnesses were cross examined and this includes those by counsel for Sasikala and the hospital's advocate on matters having a bearing on treatment to Jayalalithaa.

Seven were petitioner-witnesses including Madurai-based P Saravanan, formerly with the DMK and now in the BJP. Sasikala's relatives and Jayalalithaa's cook Rajammal, IAS, IPS officials and paramedics were among others who had deposed before the panel.

While the panel's work appears to be almost over, it is expected to be become clear soon if the counsels for Sasikala or Apollo Hospitals would make or not any more submissions. Following that, work on submission of report to the government would be taken up by the panel.

Politically, the deposition of top AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam (OPS) asserting that he does not have any suspicion about 'Amma's' death and that he personally has respect and admiration for Sasikala, is a pointer that murmurs over leadership may not end soon in the main opposition AIADMK.

The Arumughaswamy Commission of Inquiry, constituted by the previous AIADMK government, commenced it's hearing on November 22, 2017.

"It was Panneerselvam who had demanded a probe into Jayalalithaa's death. His deposition to the panel that he has respect for Sasikala and that he does not have any suspicion about the death of late AIADMK matriarch has favoured Sasikala and whether it would help her or not politically remains to be seen," political commentator M Bharat Kumar told PTI. However, it has led to 'some confusion' among a section of AIADMK workers, he added.

Kumar said, "though OPS appears to be in favour of considering Sasikala's return, action against party functionaries for supporting her shows the unmistakable clout of K Palaniswami in the AIADMK. While Sasikala's affidavit in the panel was a significant feature, OPS's stand has strengthened it."

After Jayalalithaa's death on December 5, 2016, several questions and doubts were raised in connection with her demise by a section of AIADMK functionaries and accusations were hurled at Sasikala and her family.

Admitted on September 22, 2016 at the Apollo Hospitals here, the former Chief Minister passed away following treatment for 75 days.

After being served summons, Sasikala, who was then in prison filed an affidavit in the commission in March 2018, through her counsel which narrated the sequence to Jayalalithaa's hospitalisation and subsequent treatment at Apollo Hospitals. This formed an important basis for questioning several witnesses.

Soon after the setting up of the panel, Sasikala and Apollo Hospitals were the first to get summons to provide information.

Opposing Sasikala after he stepped down as Chief Minister in February 2017, OPS had demanded a probe into Jayalalithaa's death.

It was a key condition put forward by his faction for merger with top leader K Palaniswami's camp. Several questions were raised by supporters of OPS like Manoj Pandian, his late father P H Pandian over the circumstances leading to her death and they had opposed Sasikala.

After Jayalalithaa passed away, though Sasikala became interim general secretary, she had to go to prison in February 2017 to serve a four-year term as she was convicted in the disproportionate assets case.

With the rival factions led by OPS and Palaniswami burying the hatchet in August 2017, she was eased out of the party and a matter related to that is pending in a court here.

She walked out of jail last year and ahead of the April 2021 Assembly polls, Sasikala declared that she would stay away from politics.

However, after the AIADMK lost power to DMK, she began making clear moves to regain control of the party without success. OPS's brother O Raja was recently removed from the party for supporting her.

In April 2019, the Supreme Court had stayed the proceedings of the panel on an appeal preferred by the hospital against an order of the Madras High Court.

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

In December 2021, the apex court directed setting up of a medical board comprising AIIMS (Delhi) specialists to assist the commission. Subsequently, the panel's proceedings resumed.

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