‘Angry ghost’, robbery, murder, suspicious deaths and unwell guards add layers to Jayalalithaa mystery
Ghosts, murders, wails, thefts and other continuing mysteries have spooked Tamil Nadu’s political establishmentlong reads Updated: Jun 12, 2017 21:14 IST
Former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa had an unusual penchant for being mysterious. There are things that she didn’t want to talk about during the height of her political career, similar to her time in films. Or why exactly she kept her own family away, while entertaining the family of a woman who first entered her life as a friend. Party cadres were always left to wonder when and why they would be elevated or stripped of all honours. She was beyond questions. After her death, Jayalalithaa still continues to befuddle, if recent events are anything to go by.
Jayalalithaa’s 75-day stay at the Apollo Hospital and her subsequent death remain a stumbling block in the merger talks between the two warring AIADMK factions. The rebel leader O Panneerselvam has been consistently demanding a probe into Jayalalithaa’s death while members of chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami’s camp have dismissed the demands as ‘unwarranted’.
“We are waiting for approval to release pictures of Amma in hospital. She was given the best treatment. Once we release the pictures, the truth will become clearer and many people will be unmasked,” says a furious Pugazhendi, a leader of AIADMK Amma camp headed by Palaniswami. Sasikala and crew have always maintained that Jayalalithaa was against her hospital pictures being released as they did not want to ‘compromise on her privacy’. So Pugazhendi might be in for a long wait for approval.
Sources in Poes Garden claim that they hear “strange voices that sound like wails” every night. “This has been happening every night and even Dinakaran’s family has decided to leave after hearing the wails for four days in a row,” says a source close to Sasikala’s family.
However, it’s unclear if these photos would have ever prevented conspiracy theories from doing the rounds in Tamil Nadu. Panneerselvam perhaps thought it best to capitalise on the public sentiment over her death. In the immediate aftermath, the people of Tamil Nadu were overwhelmingly against Sasikala, who stayed at Jayalalithaa’s side for 75 days of hospitalisation. Several rumours about the marks on Jayalalithaa’s cheeks (later explained as part of the embalming process) and her legs (which looked like they were amputated) did rounds on social media and also in some Tamil magazines.
But mysteries and fodder for crazy speculation does not end there. Since then, there have been instances of robbery, murder, astonishing coincidences and the “presence” of the “angry ghost” of Jayalalithaa, adding new layers to the conspiracies.
On April 24, less than six months after Jayalalithaa’s death, a burglary attempt was made at her Kodanadu tea estate (500-odd km from Chennai). The picturesque Kodanadu property was also the CM’s summer office whenever she was in power. In the last round of elections, the opposition had made a point of telling the public that she should be voted out and kept in Kodanadu. It is rumoured that this sprawling property (spread over 900 acres) was meant to be inherited by Sasikala, but Jayalalithaa’s will, if it exists, hasn’t yet been found.
The estate has always been under tight security, with guards manning its many gates. On the night of April 24, a group of robbers reportedly beat up one of the guards to death and assaulted another. The local police made a list of 11 suspects. The main accused, C Kanagaraj, had been Jayalalithaa’s driver at Poes Garden from 2008 to 2013.
On April 28, Kanagaraj was killed in a car accident on the Salem-Ulundurpet highway when a car hit his two-wheeler. In the early hours of the next morning, Sayan — a second suspect and friend of Kanagaraj — was injured in another accident across the border in Kerala. While Sayan has been hospitalised, his wife and daughter were killed in the accident when a truck hit their car.
In Nilgiris, the police have arrested six people in connection with the burglary attempt and murder, while maintaining that there was no major theft in the estate except for a few watches and a crystal statue. But to many locals, there is something dark looming.
A Coimbatore-based Tamil journalist, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims, “Both Kanagaraj and Sayan were with their families after committing such a high-profile burglary. They never went underground; they were out in the open with their families. Despite being on the suspects’ list, they were neither arrested nor interrogated. Plus, there are a lot of discrepancies in the police report that makes it look like a cover-up. The police initially claimed the stolen watches were expensive, but what were later released were pictures of cheap watches that had Jayalalithaa’s image on them.”
The Nilgiris police firmly deny the role of any external hand in the burglary attempt. “There are only 11 people involved in this and we have already arrested six. One is dead and another is in the hospital. The remaining will be arrested soon and that will bring this mystery to end,” the police said in a press conference.
CPI state secretary R Mutharasan too thinks this was no ordinary robbery. “The burglars wanted to break open Jayalalithaa’s room. Also, the two prime accused meet with accidents and one is dead. All this is mysterious and needs further probing,” he says.
Mutharasan also points to an incident that others are also talking about now. On April 19, five days before the Kodanadu burglary, fire had broken out in Jayalalithaa’s bungalow at Siruthavur near Chennai. Though some reports say that it was because of piles of dry leaves burnt by workers, the cause has not been ascertained yet. And it has kept the flame of speculation bright. “There is certainly something mysterious happening. But the party is caught in its own set of troubles,” rues Mutharasan.
In Marina Beach, where Jayalalithaa has been laid to rest, security guards are finding it tough to stay calm. Even the waves of the second longest beach in the world couldn’t save them from the heat. “At least 20 people have been replaced on shifts. Some of us have suffered from fever too since we began our duty here,” says a security personnel.
On 8 May, Subramani – an aide of the state health minister Dr C Vijaya Bhaskar – was found dead in his farm in Namakkal. This suspicious death – it isn’t clear if it was a suicide or murder yet – too has sent alarm bells ringing through the state.
But no fire or closely timed death of burglary suspects have given conspiracy theory seekers what they want, as much as the reports about the strange happenings in Poes Garden.
Poes Garden, a 24,000 sq. ft. Chennai bungalow and the symbol of Amma’s power, is reportedly valued at Rs 90 crore. It was widely expected to be inherited by Sasikala. But without a will, like the Nilgiris tea estate, it remains without a clear legal fate. But the world seems to have a different opinion though.
Sources in Poes Garden claim that they hear “strange voices that sound like wails” every night. “This has been happening every night and even Dinakaran’s family has decided to leave after hearing the wails for four days in a row,” says a source close to Sasikala’s family. Other employees too hear the strange noises and claim their nights have become “nightmarish”.
An employee says, “It just doesn’t stop. Once, there was another relative of Sasikala who used Jayalalithaa’s room to hold talks with someone and on that night too, we heard all these noises. We are really scared.”
Sasikala had lived in Poes Garden after Jayalalithaa’s death till her arrest in February. She continued to use Poes Garden for official purposes to meet ministers and party bearers and hold discussions with them. Many leaders and celebrities called on Sasikala at Poes Garden to pay their respects to Jayalalithaa. Were there wails back then? “These noises are a very recent phenomenon. We are hearing them only for last few weeks and since then the problems have aggravated for those who tried to mess with Amma. Or so we believe,” the employee quickly adds.
At the moment, sources say no one from Sasikala’s family is staying at Poes Garden.
“We do think anybody who messed with Amma is being punished. Sasikala and Dinakaran have ended up in jail. Those who tried to rob [at Kodanadu] are also punished. As far as Poes Garden is concerned, we think it should be converted into a memorial for Amma. It might not happen right away, but doing so will only solve many issues,” says a senior AIADMK leader, choosing to remain anonymous.
While refusing to buy the supernatural argument, a former minister, however, says it’s possible for Sasikala’s family to feel “threatened for all that they could have possibly done to Jayalalithaa”. “The family strongly believes in such things. To them, even Mahadevan’s death could scare them enough,” he says. Sasikala’s nephew, 47-year-old Mahadevan, collapsed of a heart attack soon after a visit to a temple on April 15.
For observers less enamoured by these stories, the fear and mystery surrounding Jayalalithaa is just tradition.
Tamil writer Devi Bharathi says, “I think the way Jayalalithaa lived her life was mysterious enough. AIADMK cadres were always afraid of her and they probably take some indefinable delight in being so even after her death. Frankly, I think whatever has happened is the handiwork of some elements that probably want to use the situation to their advantage. But the cadres think it is supernatural.
In a party like AIADMK, that is how they have been trained to think. Jayalalithaa is well-known for her belief in astrology and the supernatural. In the ongoing confusion, such things like a burglary in Kodanadu or a fire in Siruthavur are sure to add more confusion but if you put two and two together, it is clear that there is some [human] element behind this. But who knows the truth will perhaps never come out.”
And in the fire and death and wails, the enigma of Jayalalithaa lives on.
(In arrangement with Grist Media)