Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa was sentenced to four years in jail and slapped with Rs. 100 crore fine after being found guilty of corruption by a special court in Bangalore on Saturday.
The ruling in an 18-year-old disproportionate assets case dealt a blow to the 66-year-old AIADMK chief, disqualifying her as CM and effectively putting her out of the electoral arena for 10 years.
According to provisions of the Representation of the People Act, a convicted person cannot contest elections for six years beginning from the date of completion of sentence.
There could, however, still be hope for Jayalalithaa because there is an escape route. The Supreme Court has said a convicted person can contest an election if his/her conviction and sentence — both are stayed by a superior court.
After the sentencing, Jayalalithaa — ‘Amma’ to her supporters — was sent to Parappana Agrahara jail in the city but was shifted to a hospital inside the prison premises after complaining of chest pain.
She will spend the night in a special cell in the women’s wing with special guards posted round the clock, an IANS report said. Supper was “ragi (malt) ball, plain rice, sambar and curd rice with pickle as per the jail manual”, it quoted a prison official as saying.
Jayalalithaa now has to approach Karnataka high court for bail and appeal against the conviction as the prospect of political survival — also of the AIADMK — arises in the run-up to the Tamil Nadu assembly elections due in 2016.
The verdict against ‘Amma’ (Mother, as Jayalalithaa is addressed by supporters) crushed AIADMK hopes of her emerging unscathed like she had from many legal wrangles in the past.
One school of thought in the AIADMK is that state minister O Panneerselvam could be asked to act as chief minister again. In September 2001, when the Supreme Court had set aside Jayalalithaa’s appointment, she had installed Panneerselvam.
Another party section, however, said she could favour a novice this time.
The court also convicted Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala Natarajan, her niece Ilavarasi and her nephew and the chief minister’s disowned foster son Sudhakaran in the case.
They accused were found guilty of acquiring Rs. 66.65 crore worth of assets by corrupt means between 1991 and 1996 — during Jayalalithaa’s first tenure as CM.
Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran were sentenced to four years in jail. Special public prosecutor Bhavani Singh said a fine of Rs. 10 crore had been imposed on the three convicts.
The Supreme Court had transferred the case to the special court in 2003 on a petition filed by DMK leader K Anbazhagan who expressed doubts over conduct of fair trial in Tamil Nadu.
The DMK had filed the case in 1996 on the complaints of Anbazhagan and BJP leader (then Janata Party chief) Subramanian Swamy.
Tamil Nadu on edge
The ruling, cheered on by rival DMK, led to clashes in Chennai and elsewhere in the state.
Tension gripped Tamil Nadu and bordering areas with Karnataka, forcing authorities to increase police presence.
In February 2000, three students from the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University were burnt alive after AIADMK functionaries set ablaze a bus following Jayalalithaa’s conviction in another case.
Kerala too beefed up security and sounded alert on the borders with Tamil Nadu.
In Chennai and Madurai, AIADMK protesters burnt effigies of DMK president M Karunanidhi, his sons MK Stalin and MK Alagiri and tore party posters.
Supporters of the two parties also clashed in some places. A state-owned transport corporation bus was set on fire at Veppur village and some 20 buses damaged in stone-pelting in Cuddalore district, the police said.