BY Hemantha Waranakulasuriya
Jayalalithaa’s corruption sentence landed her in jail for four years with a massive fine to boot. Two lines from Gypsies Sunil Perera’s popular song, ‘It could happen in India but not in Lanka’ went viral on electronic media since Jayalalithaa went to prison convicted of corruption charges. Anything even remotely like it could not happen in our own Sri Lanka. The Walter Talgodapitiya Commission appointed in 1958 found four Ministers in the Bandaranaike Government guilty of bribery. They were deprived of their civic and political rights long after the Commission findings were out. That too was during the Dudley Senanayake Government in 1965, not during an SLFP Government.
However, they were never charged in a Court of Law. When President Premadasa sued then Finance Minister, Ronnie de Mel, at the subsequent trial, the High Court found de Mel not guilty and he was acquitted. One cannot find in living memory any instance where a minister has been found guilty of corruption charges in a Court of Law and handed down a prison sentence.
Jayalalithaa’s life was full of vicissitudes right from the beginning. Her mother was not a prominent film personality in Tamil Nadu. She was not well to do enough to provide the kind of education her daughter wanted to become a doctor. She therefore quietly introduced Jayalalithaa to the Tamil silver screen. She had first to be contended with playing minor roles in the Tamil cinema. When she attracted M.G. Ramachandran’s attention she became a much sought after actress and the mistress of her mentor. She entered politics first by joining DMK with the patronage of MGR and later joining ADMK after his death. When MGR’s legal wife Janaki became Chief Minister for a short spell after his death, Jayalalithaa conspired with party apparatchiks and ousted Janaki from party leadership.
At 1991 Tamil Nadu State elections, she was elected Chief Minister by popular vote. This goes down in history as the first instance when a mistress succeeded her paramour to the highest political position in a country. However, this could not happen in Sri Lanka, as in the song popularized by Sunil Perera of Gypsies.
The corruption case against Jayalalithaa was first filed by Subramanian Swamy, who was a powerful figure in Indian politics then. It was later taken up by Karunanidhi’s DMK. Negotiating many legal tangles, the case dragged on for 18 long years before a judgment was delivered. That is another thing which could not have happened in Sri Lanka; because it would not take that long to determine a case in our Courts of Law.
When she was in power, Jayalalithaa’s closest confidante was Shashikala Natarajan. She was so powerful, that even ministers feared her. Jayalalithaa’s ill-gotten wealth was handled by Shashikala. Her kith and kin and all who surrounded Jayalalithaa were known as ‘Mannargudi Mafia’ and they were a very powerful coterie whose help was imperative to get anything done by CM Jayalalithaa.
At the time of Jayalalithaa’s election debacle in 1996, it was the same Subramanian Swamy, who charged her for corruption in the first place though later worked hard to forge a friendship between Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalithaa. He had a very personal reason to do so. At this time Vajpai was the Prime Minister. Subramanian Swamy was harbouring a grudge against him because he had been overlooked by Vajpai in selecting his Cabinet. Therefore, Swamy wanted to topple the Vajpai Government, for which he needed Jayalalithaa’s help. In the end, he managed to defeat the Vajpai Government at a crucial vote by a majority of one vote. After this caper, Shashikala’s stock improved in the good books of Jayalalithaa with the result that her share of commissions increased from 10% to 33.13%. This kind of sharing of spoils between politicians and their henchmen are not unique to India and Sri Lanka. It happens all over the political world all the time.
Basking in the glory of political power, Jayalalithaa never expected to descend to such low depths as going to jail ever. According to her supporters, Amma was invincible. She could not be defeated at elections. Amma would be their CM forever. It was their vociferous chant when she won in 1991. This enthusiastic crowd reaction is reminiscent of what Mrs. Bandaranaike’s supporters chanted when she won the 1960 General Election. She overnight became Amma to her supporters. D.M. Jayaratna, a Senior Minister in her government, solemnly declared she will be their Prime Minister for ever. Like a king of bygone historical times, she addressed the nation in her radio speeches as ‘My countrymen.’ Unfortunately, Sirima and Jayalalithaa were both consigned to political oblivion for sometime by the same people who sang hosannas to them.
Sometime ago, I was able to see a wedding invitation card of a son of a minister, which was in fact more like a valuable book enclosed in an attractive pouch. When one is rolling in unethically earned money they are easily given to such excesses. Even Jayalalithaa Amma spent millions upon millions of rupees for her adopted son Sudhakaran’s wedding; he was a close relative of Sashikala and he married the niece of Sivaji Ganeshan, a famous Indian film actor. By organizing a red carpet wedding in the presence of the wealthy, the high and mighty in Tamil Nadu, she laid claim to a virtual royal dynasty in the making. Ministers fell prostrate before her to beseech her favours. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this wedding is entered as world’s biggest wedding with the participation of 150,000 guests, who were entertained in an area extending over 50 acres. The Indian Court, which ruled on her extravagant expenditure for the wedding, had calculated the amount spent as 3 crores Indian rupees, not 6 crores as alleged by the prosecution.
In this case, not only Jayalalithaa but Sudhakaran and Shashikala also were handed down prison sentences. When Jayalalithaa was sentenced to prison, Shashikala conspired with her faithful followers to ascend to the CM post. But, it all came to nothing. Jayalalithaa’s rival Karunanidhi also has many corruption charges pending against him in various courts. He could in all probability find himself at the receiving end of legal justice.
When Jayalalithaa’s conviction was announced, 65 Tamil Nadu people committed suicide. If it happened to a Sri Lankan politician, a senior minister had said, the people would light crackers and eat milk rice to celebrate the event. Today, politics is corruption by another name. UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake is also facing a foreign exchange fraud case. In India, even Sonia, Manmohan Singhe and late Rajiv also faced corruption charges. Dudley, M.D. Banda, U.B. Wanninayake, Kobbekaduwa, Lesely Gunawardena, Denzil Fernando and the likes of them, according to crooked politicians, were babes in the political wilderness because they were too honest to be politicians. Only crooks, plunderers, embezzlers and all dishonest politicians are happily sent to Parliament by an electorate of mythological lotus eaters duped by false promises.