Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa was taken into judicial custody in Bangalore Saturday after a special court sentenced her to four years in prison for corruption, dealing a huge blow to the charismatic former actor’s political career.
Pronouncing his verdict on a legal battle that began in 1996, judge John Michael Cunha held Jayalalithaa, 66, and three others guilty of amassing wealth disproportionate to known sources of income. The chief minister was fined Rs.100 crore — and she stands disqualified as a legislator.
The other three held guilty are V.K. Sasikala, a close associate, now disowned foster son V.N. Sudhakaran and J. Illavarasi, a former aide. All three were also sentenced to four years in prison and fined Rs.10 crore each.
All of them were convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code.
As police escorted Jayalalithaa to a hospital for a check-up before being sent to the Bangalore Central Jail, her supporters clashed with police in the Karnataka capital while AIADMK members stoned buses and forced shops to shut down all over Tamil Nadu.
Long-distance bus services in Tamil Nadu were called off.
Saturday’s development is expected to impact Tamil Nadu politics where Jayalalithaa is a towering figure, particularly after her party swept a whopping 37 of the state’s 39 Lok Sabha seats in May. As of today, she won’t be able to return to office in the next election due in 2016.
Amid celebrations by the DMK, which filed the case against her 18 years ago saying she had Rs.66 crore of illegally gained assets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gave a cautious reaction, saying Jayalalithaa could take recourse to legal methods
Before this year’s general election, Jayalalithaa did not hide her prime ministerial ambitions. And although she did not ally with the BJP, she has enjoyed a close relationship with Modi for years.
Special public prosecutor G. Bhavani Singh said Jayalalithaa and the others would be lodged in the Bangalore Central Jail. He added that a bail application cannot be moved if the jail term exceeds three years.
“The fine will be recovered from the sale of property including jewellery and land that were seized during the trial and is in the court’s custody.”
“As Jayalalithaa has been convicted and sentenced for four years, she automatically loses her membership in the Tamil Nadu assembly and thus has to step down from the chief minister’s post,” government counsel B.T. Venkatesh told IANS in Bangalore.
Jayalalithaa can, however, move the high court in Karnataka or Tamil Nadu seeking suspension of the sentence.
In 2001, when Jayalalithaa stepped down as chief minister after being convicted in a criminal case, she appointed O. Panneerselvam, a senior minister, as the chief minister.
Jayalalithaa again became the chief minister in 2002 after being acquitted by the Madras High Court.
During her first tenure (1991-96) as chief minister, Jayalalithaa drew Re.1 as salary. The charge against her was that her assets rose from about Rs.3 crore in 1991 to around Rs.66 crore in just five years.
The disproportionate assets case saw several twists and turns. When the AIADMK returned to power in 2001, several witnesses turned hostile. On the DMK’s plea, the case was transferred to Bangalore from Chennai.
DMK spokesperson T.K.S. Elangovan said Saturday’s conviction proved that his party had not acted out of political vendetta.
As soon as the court verdict became known, furious AIADMK cadres stoned buses and forced shopkeepers to down shutters in all prominent towns and cities in Tamil Nadu.
Tension prevailed in Chennai where bus services were halted.
The question being debated animately in Tamil Nadu is who will now succeed Jayalalithaa as chief minister.
A close aide of AIADMK founder-leader MGR, Jayalalithaa became the party’s propaganda secretary in the early 1980s. In 1984, she entered the Rajya Sabha.
Jayalalithaa was elected to the Tamil Nadu assembly for the first time in 1989.
Two years later, she became the chief minister, sweeping the election held after the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Her party was voted out in 1996 amid corruption charges but she returned to power in 2001.
Jayalalithaa again led the AIADMK to a thumping victory in 2011. This time, she announced a string of populist measures that have proved to be hugely popular in Tamil Nadu
Jayalalithaa studied in Bangalore and Chennai, and ventured into acting. She made her debut at the age of 16 in a Kannada movie, and went on to act in over 140 films.