All eyes on Bangalore court

angry-jayalalithaJayalalithaa assets case: verdict postponed to Sept. 27 

Case is that Jayalalithaa acquired wealth worth Rs. 66.65 cr. as CM in 91-96

For Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, many of her political crises have emanated from legal tangles. After having decimated the opposition in the Lok Sabha elections earlier in May, she faces her biggest challenge not from political rivals, but a Special Court in Bangalore that will deliver its judgment on an 18-year-old ‘disproportionate assets’ case on Saturday.

With the Supreme Court, on Friday, declining to defer pronouncement of the verdict by the trial court, Saturday will decide whether Ms. Jayalalithaa will continue as Chief Minister or face immediate disqualification as Member of the Legislative Assembly in the event of her conviction under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Acquittal, on the other hand, may set off massive celebrations by the ruling party as she has long been claiming that the case was based on rival DMK’s political vendetta.

Elected representatives no longer enjoy protection from disqualification following a Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, which allowed sitting members to continue as legislators if they filed an appeal within three months.

This is not the first time Ms. Jayalalithaa is dealing with the prospect of having to demit office after a court verdict.

In September 2001, the Supreme Court quashed her appointment as chief minister on the grounds that a person convicted for a criminal offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years cannot be Chief Minister.

The case against her is that she acquired wealth worth Rs. 66.65 crore during her stint as Chief Minister between 1991 and 1996, and that she was abetted in this by her aide Ms. Sasikala and two of her relatives, V.N. Sudhakaran (Ms. Jayalalithaa’s former foster son) and J. Ilavarasi. The defence has argued that there was no evidence to show that three of them were ‘benamis’ of Ms. Jayalalithaa and that all four have accounted for their assets through legitimate means.

Without a strong second line leadership, the AIADMK does not have any obvious successor to Ms. Jayalalithaa in the event of her disqualification.

As in 2001-02, when O. Paneerselvam was the chief minister replacing her, Ms. Jayalalithaa will remain the power behind the throne even when she is out of office as long as her party is in power.