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Jayalalithaa and the art of running the government from jail

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Jayalalithaa would be able to run the Government even from the central jail as she has proved her skills best in the art of backseat driving when a similar situation came up in 2000
The fifteen-year-old saga of a legal battle triggered off by Subramanian swami and taken ahead by the DMK thus came to a truly logical end when AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa walked into history by being the first ruling Chief Minister convicted for corruption charges.

No one except the ‘less informed and ill-informed Jaya fans could have expected a different climax to this story which is an unusual narrative of the absolute misuse of power. The AIADMK followers flooded across Avvai Shanmughom street (head quarters of AIADMK) and Poes Garden (Jayalalithaa’s house) carrying sweets and crackers since Saturday morning. They were hopeful that ‘Amma’ would be acquitted. For them, Amma doesn’t have to loot the public money as she does not need money. The crowd who were on a jubilant mood in the morning turned violent as the news leaked out. The public rage paralysed the state for hours as the riotous mob went on rampage with the usual shows of bus burning, stone pelting, self-immolation and what not. The entire ministers in the cabinet were camping at Bangalore leaving the state apparatus ungoverned.

The check period for this case has been set out as 01.07.1991 to 30.04.1996 when Jayalalithaa held office as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. In a vigilance probe by the DMK Government in 1997, it was found that Jayalalithaa and team(N Sasikala,her sister’s son V N Sudhakaran, Sasikala’s brother’s wife J Elavarasi) had accumulated Rs 65.86 crores of unaccounted money which is not proportionate to their known sources of income. The real irony is that it took fifteen years to conclude that a Chief Minister who was drawing one rupee a month as salary amassed Rs 66 crores in a span of five years, for which she failed to disclose the source. It is recorded in the charge sheet that Jayalalithaa has not filed tax return in the check period of the case that is 1991 to 1996.

The fifteen years saga of this legal battle which is shortly known as DA case (Disproportionate Assets case) is a grand narrative of the laundering of ill-gotten wealth through land grab, intimidation, black mailing and deception. The charge sheet speaks in volume about the muscle flexing and abuse of power by Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi on Behalf of Jayalalithaa. In the case, some 259 prosecution witnesses and 99 defence witnesses were examined and 2600 documents were produced in the case.

The country has also witnessed embarrassing attempts to sabotage the case at different stages. The public prosecutors were changed many times and the trial was shifted to Karnataka in 2003 at the request of K Anpazhakan,the then general secretary of DMK on the allegation that fair trial was not possible in Tamil Nadu when the accused herself was holding power.

In 2011 (during Jayalalithaa’s tenure) the then Chief Secretary issued a letter directing the then Deputy Superintendent of Police of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption, M Smbandam to do a further investigation of the case which was indeed an arrogant display of dishonour to the trial court. The DSP directly submitted an application in the trial court to get permission for further investigation of the case which is under trial by-passing the Public Prosecutor which was apparently dismissed by the court. The same police officer appeared in the court as defence witness which is unprecedented in criminal jurisprudence.

Among the 259 prosecution witnesses, a good number of them speak about how they had been intimidated, forced and compelled to sell their lands to Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi. The scope for negotiation was very little; they had been forced to sign the sale deeds for the price fixed by this three member team. The popular music director, lyricist and film maker Gangai Amaran is one among them. As the 40th prosecution witness, he discloses how 22 acres of land that he owned in Chenkalpet was grabbed from him. According to his testimony, he was summoned by the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to her residence. There he was intimated and roughed up by Sasikala and was forced to sell his land for a price fixed by them.

According to the charge sheet, Jayalalithaa along with others hold the directorship of 32 companies which function only in paper and make no profit. Huge amount of money is transferred to the accounts of these companies, acres of land is purchased and vehicles had been registered on behalf of these companies .In 1991, as per the known sources, Jayalalithaa had only three enterprising firms, namely Jaya Publications, Sasi Enterprises and Namadhu MGR. The case discloses the embarrassing heights of corruption as in a span of five years the Chief Minister drawing one rupee a month, became the owner of thirty two companies and acres of land across the state.

The direction to which Tamil politics is moving is hardly predictable at this point of time. The AIADMK is a party which hardly knows what it means to be internally democratic as far as apolitical party is concerned. The party does not have a second level leadership as Jayalalithaa being the unquestionable leader since the power was transferred to her by MGR. On the other side, the Opposition DMK is a party which displays sheer incapacity to strike while the iron is hot.

T K S Ilangovan, the organising secretary of DMK confirmed that the party would not demand early polls. “They have the mandate, let another Chief Minister come and take over, we don’t demand general election now”. It is known to everyone that DMK-sickened by the internal fights and the battle between Azhagiri and Stalin- is too weak to go to the poll front right now.

The DMK workers gathered in front of house No 15, 4th street Gopalpuram, the residence of Muthuvel Karunanidhi on Saturday remained clueless on how to celebrate the victory -whether to burst crackers or to distribute laddu- as they got no cue from the leaders inside. The doors of the house remained closed against the scribes who had been waiting since noon as neither Karunanidhi nor Stalin came out. A weak and paralysed Opposition which does not have any locus standi to speak against corruption however makes things better for AIADMK at this time of crisis.

Though, uncertainty is the synonym for Tamil politics at present, it is indeed predictable that this Judgment marks the beginning of the end of the era of Jayalalithaa as she has to stay away from power for a period of ten years (four years imprisonment and six years statutory bar). How long the loyalists would remain loyalists to a leader who is not armed with power even if it is Supremo, Jayalalithaa? However, she is clever and smart enough to gather the sympathy wave infavour of her which may translate into votes in the next general elections. Jayalalithaa would be able to run the Government even from the central jail as she has proved her skills best in the art of backseat driving when a similar situation came up in 2000 in which she was convicted by a trial court and her trusted lieutenant O Paneerselvam took over the charge of the state. The history seems to be repeating itself, once again.