The sun sets for Sasikala?

(Photo Credits: ANI Youtube Channel)

The Supreme Court verdict convicting Chinamma also vindicates the cautious approach taken by Governor Vidyasagar Rao throughout the episode.

Hardnews Bureau Delhi

 

The political debacle in Tamil Nadu that began with Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam tendering his resignation and rebelling against AIADMK general secretary V. K. Sasikala drew to a close with the Supreme Court upholding Sasikala’s conviction in the disproportionate assets case. Quashing the Karnataka High Court order that acquitted her, the court upheld the trial court's judgment convicting her in the 21-year-old case. She has been sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of Rs 10 crore has been imposed.

Sasikala, Jayalalithaa's long time aide, was accused of misusing her office to accrue properties worth more than Rs 60 crore that did not add up to her known sources of income.

A Bench comprising Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Amitava Roy also set aside the acquittal of Sasikala’s two co-accused–J. Ilavarasi and V.N. Sudhakaran. They noted that the appeals filed by Karnataka government and others, including DMK leader K. Anbazhagan, against former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has abated after her death on December 5, 2016.

The verdict has put a big question mark over Sasikala’s political career as even after serving the four-year-long sentence, she would not be able to contest elections for a period of six years. The judgment is also being read as a vindication for Governor Vidyasagar Rao who had been under scanner throughout the episode for delaying Sasikala’s swearing-in ceremony. His conduct had come under severe criticism from the supporters of Sasikala and members of the Congress party who alleged that the Governor was acting at the behest of the BJP government at the centre, which has been looking for a toehold in Tamilnadu. Rao had taken refuge behind a specious excuse to provide a stable government in Chennai.

Despite the heat building up on Rao, he chose to wait for the Supreme Court judgement, which incidentally showed up at the right time.

 

Ever since Pannerselvam revolted, support swelled for his camp with as many as 11 Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members, present and former MLAs, party veterans like E Madhusudhanan and C Ponnaiyan, party heavyweights and former AIADMK ministers meeting him and pledging their support.

 

The Supreme Court’s decision is being hailed by many as a course-correction required for pulling the state out of the ongoing political turmoil. Eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee said, "It is a great day for judiciary." Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap said that the ball was now in Rao's court who will now probably go for a floor test to end the impasse.

Union Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu hailed the ruling, saying that the "need of the hour is to enable an able and stable government in Tamil Nadu".

Senior lawyer and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who had backed Sasikala for some time, said, "I was expecting the conviction. I don't think she can escape the 4 years sentence".

Sasikala, who broke down on hearing the court verdict, held discussions with senior party leaders and MLAs and expelled Panneerselvam along with 20 other rebel leaders. On her suggestion, Edappady K Palaniswamy has been elected as the new party chief.

Sasikala and Pannerselvam were locked in a battle to claim the throne since Jayalalithaa’s demise in December. The fissures were exposed when Pannerselvam raised the banner of revolt against the party chief on February 6 and alleged that a member of her family had indicated that everyone but Sasikala had benefitted after Jayalalithaa’s death.

Ever since Pannerselvam revolted, support swelled for his camp with as many as 11 Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members, present and former MLAs, party veterans like E Madhusudhanan and C Ponnaiyan, party heavyweights and former AIADMK ministers meeting him and pledging their support.

There were also rumours that Sasikala had held party MLAs captive in a heavily-guarded resort in Koovathur to prevent horsetrading, a charge that was denied by her. Although the state police submitted a report saying that the AIADMK MLAs lodged in the resort were not being “held captive,” one of the MLAs lodged within the premises claimed that he made a dramatic escape by disguising himself and scaling the wall of the property.

The verdict may have prevented the state from plunging into another political chaos but the crisis is far from being resolved. With Pannerselvam’s exit from the fold, the party may well be headed for a split unless a leader emerges who can keep the two camps together.

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2017