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Past continues to haunt Jayalalithaa

Past continues to haunt Jayalalithaa
If the AIADMK chief Jayalalitha Jayaram thought that her troubles had come to an end with her acquittal by the Karnataka High Court last month on <g data-gr-id="62">a disproportionate assets</g> case, she was in for a rude shock. The Karnataka government has gone to the Supreme Court challenging the High Court verdict this week putting a question mark on her political career. If the apex court quashes the high court ruling she would essentially be back to square one. The Congress-ruled state government had come under pressure from different quarters and ultimately decided to file the appeal. Leading the demand for an appeal was the DMK and PMK from Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, the original complainant and the BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy had been threatening to go on appeal.  

 The appeal has come at a time when the Tamil Nadu chief minister is very keen to win the Assembly elections scheduled for next year. With this single- minded approach, she had already begun to concentrate on her administration and also launched a soft campaign. Jayalalithaa was sworn in as Chief Minister on May 23, after an eight-month break during which time her proxy chief minister O. Panneerselvam took no significant decisions. Fortunately for her, there is enormous sympathy for her after the trial court verdict. A shrewd politician like Jayalalitha hopes to leverage this in her favour during the upcoming assembly elections.

The appeal has come at a time when Jayalalitha is contesting the R.K. Nagar <g data-gr-id="52">bye</g>- election. She was automatically disqualified when the trial court had sentenced her to four years in prison and <g data-gr-id="54">an Rs</g> 100 crore fine. However, the appeal may not come in the way of her winning the by-election as the Supreme Court may take up the case only after the summer vacation. 

In its petition, the Karnataka government has requested the apex court to restore the conviction of Jayalalitha on grounds of  ‘mathematical error’. It has also pointed out that it did not get sufficient time to put forth its case before the High Court. The case against her was originally filed way back in 1996. The Karnataka government came into the picture after the trial was shifted in 2003 to ensure that local politics does not influence the proceedings.

Ironically, the two national parties – the Congress and the BJP are wooing the AIADMK to reach some electoral understanding or tie up before the Assembly polls. The AIADMK had swept the Lok Sabha polls winning 37 of the 39 seats while its main rival the DMK did not win a single seat. While Jayalalitha is keeping the cards close to her chest, the BJP, which won a single seat, wants to have some pre-poll understanding with Jayalalitha. Prime Minister Modi even congratulated her last month on her acquittal amidst swirling rumors that the Centre played its part. The Congress, which was wiped out, would also like to reach some sort of understanding with the AIADMK, as the party had always been piggyback riding on either the DMK or the AIADMK. Now that the DMK is wiped out, it is looking to the AIADMK. Facing a Hobson’s choice, The Karnataka government was assessing the pros and cons of going for an appeal. 

Interestingly, the KPCC Legal Cell was of the view that Karnataka was not an aggrieved party as it was involved only in an administrative capacity. Since it had earlier filed a petition claiming that the state had no interest in the outcome of the case, the legal cell felt that appealing against the HC verdict now would amount to showing some interest.

There were also other political reasons cited against going on appeal. The Congress is on a revival mode after its vice president Rahul Gandhi came back from his sabbatical. The main opposition party has taken lead in Parliament to raise issues and has threatened the Modi government that it will not allow the ensuing Monsoon session of Parliament function in view of the recent revelations made by the former IPL chief Lalit Modi recently involving the External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje.  The AIADMK is the third largest party in the Lok Sabha and has a good number of seats in the Rajya Sabha also. So getting the support of the AIADMK would help its cause. Moreover, the BJP is in a minority in Rajya Sabha and the Modi government is keen to push through key reform bills like the GST and Land Acquisition bill in the coming monsoon session. If the Karnataka government had supported Jayalalitha by not going on appeal the Congress could expect the AIADMK support in Parliament.

 Secondly, the Congress was hoping to ride piggyback on the AIADMK in the next Assembly polls. The Congress leaders are in touch with the AIADMK boss and would like to see that Jayalalitha looks away from the BJP. Thirdly, the state had already spent several Crores of rupees on the case and the Karnataka chief minister would have been happy to get rid of the case. However after consultations with the high command he took the final decision to go for an appeal. The next few months are crucial for Jayalalitha’s political career as she must make all-out efforts to win her case in the apex court besides winning the state. Both are stupendous tasks. Jayalalitha is known as a doughty fighter. It is possible that the case may drag on for years and she might even complete her next term going by the speed at which our courts function! IPA
Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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