Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s absence from former president APJ Abdul Kalam’s funeral in Rameshwaram on Thursday because of a health condition has once again brought into focus her illness, already a subject of political concern in the state.
“I have great affection and respect for Abdul Kalam. I would like to attend his funeral and pay my respects to him. However owing to my health condition I am not in a position to travel,” Jayalalithaa said in a statement on Wednesday.
Coming close on the heels of her absence from an Iftar hosted by her party last month, her announcement that her health was preventing her from travelling has only heightened concern over her illness. But a spate of legal action against media outlets and opposition leaders has curbed speculation over her health condition.
Jayalalithaa has rarely made a public appearance since her return to power in May following her acquittal in a disproportionate assets case. Her campaign for a by-election to re-enter the assembly was confined to just a day when she made a whirlwind three-hour tour of her constituency. She gave the Niti Aayog meeting in Delhi, addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a miss and has visited the secretariat only about 20 times since assuming power on May 23.
“She is not going for the funeral, as she herself said that she is unwell. When others say it she gets angry. But now this means whatever others are saying is true,” said DMK spokesperson TKS Elangovan Jayalalithaa’s statement. “I don’t want to comment on her health, but the state government should come out with a statement on her health.”
Her absence sparked questions from the opposition on her health, but her party members dismissed any criticism of the chief minister.
“Amma herself has issued a statement because of long travel and her health condition was making her miss the funeral of Abdul Kalam, whom she wanted as president for the second term also. There is nothing big to be made out of her inability to travel long distances,” AIADMK spokesperson CR Saraswathi said.
Saraswathi added that the administration was working fine and all welfare schemes were running perfectly. “In today’s networked, online working environment, it hardly matters where the work gets done from. Madam Jayalalithaa goes to office whenever scheduled and necessary. Why, she was there in Secretariat the day before also. When the house is in session, she attends every day. Opposition parties do not have anything better to say or do, which is why they rake up all non-issues as they know Amma is going to win hands down in 2016 too.”
Jayalalithaa has already sued a Tamil publication, English website Rediff.com and senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy for commenting on her health condition and making “false statements regarding her ailments”.