It is no secret that arch rivals, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi and the AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa, are two veteran leaders of Indian politics who, despite living just a few streets apart, have hardly wasted any time exchanging pleasantries in the last few decades. But even if personal attacks are not new to either of them, the latest public demand from Karunanidhi asking Jayalalithaa to reveal her health status has triggered a row over his remarks being in bad taste. Amid the controversy over a veteran speculating about the health condition of his rival, it is being debated whether his demand was in interest of the state or if it just reflected spiteful political vendetta.
Tamil Nadu politics is not new to rumours breaking out about the health of its most popular leaders. Karunanidhi himself, and his son – DMK treasurer M K Stalin – were targets of such campaigns for years. The health of DMDK leader Vijayakanth was a subject of widespread speculation in the regional media. However, the reports about an 'unhealthy CM' started doing the rounds in political circles after Jayalalithaa failed to greet her cheering supporters after being acquitted in a corruption case in May. The rumours strengthened after her ministers took oath in a chorus, reportedly to cut short the ceremony, and after she undertook her shortest election campaign, which lasted for hardly four hours, during the R K Nagar bypoll last month. Besides spending a few hours in office after being sworn in again, the CM has cancelled or postponed a number of programmes recently. She also skipped her party's Iftar dinner and flagged off the Chennai Metro service from her office.
The happenings gave enough reasons to DMK chief Karunanidhi (92), who is already rattled by the AIADMK's massive bypoll win, to ask Jayalalithaa about her medical condition. He alleged that she would not be able to perform her duties due to her 'ill health'. “The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu has no work because she is not in good health. That is why the state is being run like one without a CM,” he said on Tuesday. Although Karunanidhi's statements were not offensive or derogatory, they revived memories of the days when both engaged in personal attacks.
Retired jurist and political commentator, K Chandru, said that while there was nothing wrong in Karunanidhi inquiring about her health, he should remember that the situation was not different when he was the CM and when questions were being raised about his own health. “People used to say that politicians of Tamil Nadu should be shaking their legs during sleep as otherwise someone would place a wreath on them. These jokes remain relevant in the present political scenario. Basically, it is just a sign of leaders clinging to power,” he said. When DMK founder Annadurai was admitted to a US hospital for cancer treatment, the party issued regular health bulletins. The same drill was repeated when MGR, the AIADMK founder, went abroad for treatment.