A Strange Disease In Tamil Nadu
TAMIL TRIBUNE, September 1997 (ID.1997-09-03)
2. Adhi Rajaram
3. T.T.V. Bhaskaran
4. Sasikala Natarajan
AIADMK - All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
CBI - Central Bureau of Investigation
A strange disease, not seen in any other part of the world, is going around in Tamil Nadu. This disease seems to be restricted to the capital city Chennai (Madras). It seems to strike suddenly and unexpectedly. It never has any symptoms detectable in blood chemistry, X-rays or other diagnostic tools. This disease is not widespread. Only a handful of people have been struck in the past three or four years. The disease is not fatal but very expensive, requiring long hospital stays. Fortunately, this expensive disease strikes only the very rich, especially those with political connections at the highest levels. Furthermore, invariably, victims succumb to this disease only after being arrested or notified of an impending arrest for corruption or other high crimes.
2. Adhi Rajaram
We are not sure who the very first patient of this unnamed disease is. Digging into news archives, we come across the case of an All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) district secretary, Mr. Adhi Rajaram, in 1995. He was an accused in the criminal assault of a lawyer named K. M. Vijayan. This lawyer was attacked by some men in front of his house, as he was leaving to catch a plane to New Delhi to argue a case before the Indian Supreme Court challenging a state law enacted by the AIADMK government of the then chief minister Ms. Jayalalithaa Jayaram. Dissatisfied with the state police investigation, the Supreme Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which comes under the purview of the Indian Central Government, to take over the investigation. An arrest warrant for Adhi Rajaram was issued as a result of the CBI investigation.
As soon as the arrest warrant was issued, the 38 year old Rajaram complained of feeling sick and was rushed to the state government hospital in Chennai. (But for this sudden illness he would have been taken to jail.) He was diagnosed with a heart condition. The attending physician told the court that it was a "subjective condition" that cannot be evaluated by any diagnostic instrument. At this, the judge quipped, "then, any one could claim to be suffering from this sickness!"
3. T.T.V. Bhaskaran
Another case of the disease was also reported in the same year. This time it was the managing director of a Tamil cable television company called JJTV (named after the then chief minister Jayalalitha Jeyaram). The 31 year old T.T.V. Bhaskaran is a nephew of Mrs. Sasikala Natarajan, a very close friend of the chief minister. She, in fact, lives with the chief minister in the latter's residence.
Bhaskaran was charged with foreign exchange violations by the Enforcement Directorate (this department also comes under the purview of the central government). After his arrest, just before he was to be sent to his prison cell, he complained of chest pain and was rushed to the state government hospital in Chennai. He was accommodated in an air-conditioned room (a far cry from the prison cell he would have gone to, but for this unfortunate illness). Television and video cassette players were installed in the room so that he could view taped JJTV programs. A cellular phone was also supplied for his use. He allegedly conducted business through the phone. He also had a steady stream of visitors. However, when the Enforcement Directorate officials wanted to talk to him, the government hospital doctors prohibited it on the grounds that he was too sick for that. The directorate went to courts and a judge ordered that Bhaskaran be made available for an interview with directorate officials in the presence of a physician. When the officials went to the hospital on the set date, they were told that Bhaskaran's condition worsened and that he was transferred to the Intensive Coronary Care Unit. Doctors would allow only a very short interview. The frustrated officials left the patient after about 5 minutes of interview.
4. Sasikala Natarajan
The most recent case of this mystery sickness is that of Mrs. Sasikala Natarajan, whose name has already come up in this article. She was arrested on January 2, 1996 on charges of having wealth well beyond her known sources of income. She got sick in the jail and was admitted to the hospital, first to the Chennai government hospital and then to the ultra-modern and very expensive Apollo Hospital in Chennai. When in the hospital, she got bail. Soon she recovered and was released from the hospital.
In June 1997 she failed to come to the court claiming to be sick. Her lawyers told the judge that she could not walk. Judge ordered that she be present in court on the next trial date. So she came to the court building, on June 25 and on July 17, in an ambulance, and was brought before the judge in a stretcher with two nurses walking by the stretcher holding glucose bottles feeding her intravenously. On July 17, when the judge asked her if she knew that he was a judge, she was too sick to answer. At this, the judge ordered that she should present herself to the government hospital on July 21 for a medical examination by the hospital doctors. Her lawyers protested and assured the judge that she will definitely walk to the court next time. (How do these lawyers know that this lady, too sick even to talk, would be able to walk next time?) On hearing the judge's order to go to the government hospital for an examination, Sasikala was able to gather enough strength to utter "I understand" in answer to the judge's earlier question. The judge would not withdraw his order.
Sasikala was examined at the government hospital in Chennai by a team of physicians and they declared her to be fully healthy physically and mentally and stated that she was able to answer their questions without any difficulty. [It should be noted that there was a new State Government by now in Tamil Nadu under Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, an archrival of former Chief Minister and Mrs. Sasikala's friend Jayalalithaa. The government hospital in Chennai comes under the purview of the state government.]
Nowadays the stretcher is gone but she comes to the court building in an ambulance and then goes into the building in a wheel chair. She, no longer, has any problem answering to questions.
This strange disease does not seem to be communicable. She is living in Jayalalitha's house and neither the former chief minister nor her household employees have come up with this mystery illness.
RELATED ARTICLE (updated in July 2002)
A Strange Disease Spreads from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka (by Inia Pandian), TAMIL TRIBUNE, June 2002.
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