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Sasikala's CM dream shattered, Palaniswami stakes claim

AIADMK chief V K Sasikala was on Tuesday convicted in a corruption case by Supreme Court which dashed her ambition to become the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, as the verdict holding her guilty of entering into a conspiracy with late AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa would bar her from electoral politics for the next decade.

The apex court judgement, delivered at a time when the state is witnessing a bitter power struggle in the aftermath of Jayalalithaa's demise, set aside the Karnataka High Court order acquitting all the four accused and "restored in toto" the trial court's decision in the 19-year-old disproportionate assets case.

60-year-old Sasikala will now have to serve a jail term of around three-and-half years out of four years awarded by the trial court as she has already undergone almost six months in prison.

The special trial court had found disproportionate assets worth Rs 53.60 crore, which Jayalalithaa and the three others could not account for. The CBI had alleged that the unaccounted wealth was in the tune of Rs 66.65 crore.

The top court directed Sasikala and her two relatives -- V N Sudhakaran, Jayalalithaa's foster son, and Elavarasi, widow of Sasikala's elder brother, to "forthwith surrender" before the Bengaluru's trial court which will "take immediate steps" to ensure that all the three "serve out the remainder of sentence awarded to them and take further steps in compliance of this judgement, in accordance with law."

She had been in the jail in 1996 when the case was registered and later in 2014 after the Special trial court convicted and awarded a four-year sentence with a fine of Rs 10 crore. Jayalalithaa was then awarded four-year jail term, besides a fine of Rs 100 crore.

The apex court, which abated the proceedings against Jayalalithaa who breathed her last on December 5 last year, held that the criminal conspiracy was hatched at her Poes Garden residence in Chennai.

"The joint residence of all the accused persons also could not be ignored as a factor contributing to the charge of conspiracy and abetment when assessed together with the attendant facts and circumstances reinforcing the said imputations," a bench comprising Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy said.

Soon after Sasikala's conviction, newly elected AIADMK Legislature Party Leader Edappadi K Palaniswami met governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao and staked claim to form the government.

In his brief meeting with the Governor, Palaniswami presented a list of MLAs supporting his claim.

Later leaders from the Panneerselvam camp also met the Governor.

In fast- paced developments, Sasikala loyalist Edappady K Palaniswami was on Tuesday elected as Legislature Party Leader following the conviction of the AIADMK general secretary, who sacked rebel leader O Panneerselvam from the party's primary membership.

Chief Minister O Panneerselvam on Tuesday made a fervent appeal to those in Sasikala's camp to go by their "conscience" in taking forward the government that was led by 'Amma' (Jayalalithaa).

"Due to a few incidents, there had been a small impediment in the continuance of her government. To remove this temporary impediment and to take forward the good governance of Amma, it is our duty to take steps according to our conscience," Panneerselvam said.

Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Governor C Vidyasagar Rao is expected to take a decision on formation of a new government in the state on the basis of recommendations by three legal luminaries, including Soli Sorabjee.

In his only report sent on Sunday to the central government, ever since O Panneerselvam resigned as chief minister on February 5, the governor conveyed that he had taken legal opinions from Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, former Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran and constitutional expert Sorabjee.

Two of the three experts suggested that composite floor test like the one conducted in Uttar Pradesh in 1998 could be done in Tamil Nadu, a Home Ministry official said quoting the governor's report.

In 1998, the Supreme Court ordered a floor test in the Uttar Pradesh assembly to determine who between the two claimants — Jagdambika Pal and Kalyan Singh — commanded the majority support for chief ministership.

Sorabjee said the floor test should not be delayed and maximum wait period should be for a week and the leader who commands the largest number of MLAs should be sworn-in."The Governor is expected to take adecision on the basis of the suggestions given by the three legal experts," the official said.
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