Apollo Hospital is turning out to be a must-visit venue for the country’s who’s who in the world of politics, business and entertainment ever since it admitted Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa for treatment three weeks ago.
The 68-year-old AIADMK leader, who has been a colourful and influential personality straddling over three decades in politics and half a century in entertainment industry, has people’s eyes riveted on her health since September 22 when she complained of fever and dehydration.
Doctors attending on Jayalalithaa advised a longer stay for treatment, following which governor C Vidyasagar Rao this week handed over her work to senior Cabinet colleague O Panneerselvam, a trusted aide.
That move, announced by Raj Bhavan on Tuesday, only added fuel to rumour mills that spun all sorts of stories about the CM, often claiming “inside sources”.
The government and the ruling AIADMK have, since the day Jayalalithaa was admitted to Apollo, been trying their best to dispel speculations about her health. Regular health bulletins became a norm, while leaders of the ruling party, too, came out with statements suggesting all was well with the CM. The doctors have reiterated she was responding to treatment, only that she would have to stay for a longer duration.
Several top politicians, including BJP president Amit Shah, union finance minister Arun Jaitley, and DMK leader MK Stalin visited Apollo Hospital on Greams road in downtown Chennai.
Many leaders dodged the media while stepped into the hospital building, or left without making it a public spectacle. Neither Shah nor Jaitley spoke a word to journalists. Not different was the conduct of sports enthusiast Nita Ambani, who came to Chennai on Thursday evening. The 52-year-old wife of top industrialist Mukesh Ambani drove straight from Meenambakkam airport into Apollo, not uttering a word to the army of mediamen and people camping outside the hospital for three weeks now.
Among the first to visit Apollo to check in on Jayalalithaa’s health, other than all her ministers and party leaders, was Pon Radhakrishnan, the lone BJP MP from the state and a union minister of state. He was not allowed to go beyond the first floor of the hospital.
But it was a surprise visit by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi last week that sparked off a flurry of activity among the national political parties. Several of them began sending heavyweight leaders to the hospital.
Apollo founder-chairman Prathap C Reddy has been receiving all the VIPs and facilitating their meetings with the team of doctors attending on Jayalalithaa.
On October 1, governor Rao was compelled to visit Apollo after Jayalalithaa’s arch rival M Karunanidhi of Opposition DMK wondered why the Raj Bhavan VIP was turning a blind eye to the CM after almost ten days her hospitalisation.
So far, the leaders who checked in to Apollo Hospital to enquire about Jayalalithaa’s health included union ministers M Venkaiah Naidu and Nirmala Sitharaman, Puducherry governor Kiran Bedi and chief minister V Narayansamy, former Puducherry CM N Rangasamy and Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan besides a host of Tamil film stars and the well-known people of the Tamil Nadu society.
The actors who visited Jayalalithaa included Karthik, Karunas (also an MLA), and a host of politicians such as MDMK general secretary Vaiko, VCK leader Thol Thirumavalanan and BJP state unit chief Tamilasai Soundarrajan.
Naidu, Stalin, Vaiko, Soundarrajan and Thirumalavalan did speak a word or two to the media, expressing the hope that the CM will get well soon. Naidu exhorted the people not to believe in rumors and said Jayalalithaa will recover and resume work.
The road outside Apollo has also become a camp office of sorts for the Indian national and regional press corps. Newspapers and television channels have posted media personnel in shifts, covering the hospital on a 24/7 basis.
The 1983-founded Apollo was the hospital that treated Jayalalithaa’s mentor MG Ramchandhran 32 years ago when he was the CM. That time, too, crowds outside the hospital ran high on sentiments for their leader.