The AIADMK will tell you Amma is at work even inside the hospital while the DMK says Amma's government is in pause mode. 

The AIADMK spin is that Amma is closely monitoring the Cauvery river water dispute from her hospital bed. That she chaired a crucial meeting with officials and even dictated her speech to be read out at the meeting with Water Resources Minister Uma Bharathi last week. That she also took other administrative and party-related decisions. 

CR Saraswathi, the AIADMK spokesperson, said, "Amma works for 22 out of 24 hours. Even those two hours, she only thinks of people's welfare. We want her to rest for a few days in the hospital because she has been working so hard."

That is not a version the opposition DMK is willing to believe. Its chief Karunanidhi fired a salvo last week, in a rather sharp open letter. The former chief minister, quoted a Tamil daily to name Sasikala (Jayalalithaa's trusted aide) and Sheela Balakrishnan (Advisor to the Tamil Nadu chief minister) as the shadows who are trying to be the real person. He warned against unauthorised individuals with access to Jayalalithaa trying to run the state by proxy. 

But the fact of the matter is that the structure of the administration in Tamil Nadu is extremely centralised, with most decisions taken by the Chief Minister's Office. In the political theatre of Chennai, Poes Garden (Jayalalithaa's residence) is as important as Fort St George, which houses the State Secretariat.


Political observers say the CMO called the shots in 2014-15 when Jayalalithaa stepped down as CM following her conviction by a Bengaluru court in the Disproportionate Assets case and O Panneerselvam was anointed her successor. OPS, as he is referred to, was only a nightwatchman, a Chief Minister merely in title.

This team of five bureaucrats - four secretaries and an Officer on Special Duty - in the CMO to who all principal secretaries and secretaries of different departments report, in turn, report to the Chief Secretary and Sheela Balakrishnan. In fact, Balakrishnan herself was chief secretary till 2014, and when she retired, she was appointed as Advisor. Apart from having a reputation of being a good administrator, she, more importantly, enjoys Jayalalithaa's trust and confidence. 

The same arrangement, those in the know say, is holding fort since September 22. The state ministers are only the political face of the government in the districts. In real terms, it is the bureaucratic leadership that is running the government.

This was also highlighted by Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal in March this year at the CII Young India Meet in New Delhi when he called Tamil Nadu "a state within a state". He claimed it is a part of India where he could not reach out to the CM. "I have access to 28 states in this country but for the 29th state when I want to talk to someone, I cannot. I call and talk to the Power Minister of Tamil Nadu, and he says he will get back to me after he speaks with Amma," said Goyal.

In a democracy, it is imperative to ensure that not just the state runs, it is also seen as being governed. AIADMK leaders say that the reports that Jayalalithaa's health has shown improvement in the last 36 hours give them hope that things will be back to normal very soon. VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan who visited Apollo Hospitals on Monday said he was told by AIADMK leaders that Jayalalithaa could be discharged in 2-3 days. 

If that happens, it will take the sting out of the opposition criticism that the government is missing in action. And once out of Apollo, there will be no pressure on the government to make public the CM's medical status every day.