J Jayalalithaa’s health was never a matter of concern nor a public issue in Tamil Nadu until her imprisonment in September 2014 in a disproportionate assets case in which she was acquitted less than eight months later. She fiercely guarded her privacy, never letting anyone intrude into her personal sphere. So no one really had an exact idea of how unwell she was.
Jayalalithaa’s last public appearance was on September 20, two days before she was admitted to the Apollo Hospitals. When Union Ministers M Venkaiah Naidu and Pon Radhakrishnan flew from New Delhi to participate in a ceremony for the launch of a new line at the Chennai airport metro station, Jayalalithaa joined them via video conference from her office despite being in Chennai. “She was already unwell. She was brought in a wheelchair to her chamber that day and a video was shot there,” an official in her security team said
WATCH | J.Jayalalithaa’s Life Journey
Her health declined rapidly after her release from jail in Karnataka. That was the period when her opponents started pointing to her reclusive lifestyle and reduced working hours. “She kept herself away from key responsibilities after being sworn in as Chief Minister. Trusted aides, including former Chief Secretary Sheela Balakrishnan, ran the show,” said an IAS officer who retired recently.
A senior police officer, who served in her security team, recalled an incident after the last general elections. Midway to Fort St George, she suddenly said she wanted to return home. “She asked the driver to turn the car around. She was feeling dizzy and wanted to go home. She was in pain. It took her another four hours that day to leave home again for office,” the officer said.
Another officer spoke of changes made in her security protocol after her health declined in 2015. “Before her conviction in the assets case, there used to be a two-feet gap between the Chief Minister and her security personnel. She appeared weak after her imprisonment. That gap was reduced to one feet so that we could lend a helping hand in case of an emergency. In the last two years, she found it difficult to stand for a long period of time. She used elevators to reach the stage during public rallies, she chose to sit and deliver speeches,” the officer said.
A former state minister said: “It was her imprisonment (in 2014) that derailed her health. She refused to meet doctors in prison, refused to share her medical prescriptions until some senior leaders and bureaucrats managed to persuade her. We shipped a especially-made chair to the prison, and leaders slept outside the prison to convince her that she was not alone. But when she emerged from prison, Amma was different. Neither the bail nor the acquittal made her happy.”