Jayalalithaa is in for a long treatment. Tamil Nadu needs an acting CM
Doctors attending to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa at Chennai's Apollo Hospital have made it clear that she needs long-term treatment. And so, the demand for appointing an acting CM to carry on the administration till she gets well has assumed urgency.
The decision has been deferred all this while because ministers are too used to looking up to Jayalalithaa for everything, which is why they are not willing to take a call on any interim arrangement for fear that this may be misconstrued.
That stage is now past. The hospital has said Jayalalithaa is on ventilator support following a lung infection, and her sugar level is also being monitored round the clock, as she has a history of diabetes.
The hospital has deliberately left it unsaid if she is conscious or not.
Who's handling things now?
In the last nearly three weeks since her admission to hospital, neither ministers nor officials have met her. They have only interacted with the attending doctors.
Tamil Nadu's acting governor C Vidyasagar Rao, leader of the Opposition MK Stalin, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Union minister and BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu are among the top functionaries who have visited the hospital.
All leaders wish her a speedy recovery. At the same time, they are concerned about unelected officials calling the shots when there is an elected government in place.
Former chief secretary Sheila Balakrishna, who served a term as special advisor to the Chief Minister after her retirement, is now unofficially in charge of the administration, while Jayalalilthaa's personal aide Sasikala Natarajan is looking after the affairs of the ruling AIADMK.
With the Cauvery dispute with Karnataka now before the Supreme Court, DMK president M Karunanidhi as well as his son Stalin have said that the state's interests should not suffer for want of a legally-appointed CM in place of the ailing leader.
When Jayalalithaa could not attend the last meeting of Chief Ministers of the two states as well as Kerala and Puducherry, organised by the Centre, the state's chief secretary read out her address at the meeting.
Karunanidhi said that if Jayalalithaa had indeed met the chief secretary at the hospital and finalised her speech, the government should released a photo to put an end to rumours. There has been no response from the government.
It was after Karunanidhi demanded why governor Rao - the governor of Maharashtra holding additional charge of Tamil Nadu - had not taken an active role in this crisis that he rushed to Chennai and visited the hospital.
Rao also called senior-most minister O Pannerselvam and PWD minister Edapadi Palanisamy, along with the chief secretary and other top officials, and asked about the arrangements made to enable the visit of the Central water resources secretary and head of the technical committee on Cauvery to the catchment areas of the Bhavani Sagar and Mettur dams.
It was then that the government swung into action and officials accompanied the Central team when it made an on-the-spot study of the ground situation in the Cauvery delta region, and interacted with the affected farmers.
What the governor needs to do
Now that Stalin has set the ball rolling on the need for an interim CM, the governor can no longer let AIADMK ministers live in denial. He has to make them take the burden off Jayalalithaa's shoulders, in her own interest.
The AIADMK has a comfortable majority in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. When Jayalalithaa was forced out of office by adverse court verdicts, Pannerselvam had taken on the mantle of Chief Minister.
The Governor is well within his powers to name him interim CM again, and ask him to take additional charge of portfolios like Home, which were being looked after by Jayalalithaa, until she gets better. Other portfolios can be redistributed among the rest of the ministers.
The fact that so many top leaders have visited the hospital in the last few days shows how serious the situation is.
The time has come for the governor to act.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
More in Catch