The verdict that blew Jayalalitha’s Political Career
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha was taken into judicial custody in Bengaluru after a special court sentenced her to four years in prison for corruption as she is held guilty of amassing wealth disproportionate to known sources of income. The Chief Minister was fined Rs1 billion and she stands disqualified as a legislator.
Jayaram Jayalalitha is one of India’s most colourful and controversial politician. As a former actress, her career has been marked by a series of highs and lows. But as the head of the AIADMK party, she has remained in power and over most of the time she has served as Chief Minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu on four occasions – from 1991-96, briefly in 2011, 2002-06 and 2011 to 2014.
In most cases Jayalalitha’s lows have been followed by dramatic political comebacks in which she has been reinstated as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. But bouncing back from her latest setback in 2014 – a four-year jail sentence for corruption – will be one of the toughest challenges of her political career. To do it, she will need to launch an appeal, which can be a time-consuming process despite her powerful political connections.
But it is not the first time she has been sent to prison for corruption – she spent a brief time in jail over corruption charges in 1996.
The other three held guilty are V.K. Sasikala, a close associate, now disowned foster son V.N. Sudhakaran and J. Illavarasi, a former aide. All three were also sentenced to four years in prison and fined Rs100 million each.
Before this year’s general election, Jayalalitha did not hide her prime ministerial ambitions. And although she did not ally with the BJP, she has enjoyed a close relationship with Modi for years. Stories about her extravagance are legendary, and many of her worshipping followers are known to profess their loyalty through bizarre acts such as walking on hot coals or drawing her portrait with their blood.
Incidents of her followers setting fire to themselves whenever she faced political setbacks are not unknown. Her ministers have on occasions been reported to prostrate themselves at her feet. During one raid on her premises following a corruption allegation in 1996, as Chief Minister police said they had found large quantities of diamond-studded gold jewellery, more than 10,000 saris and 750 pairs of shoes.
During her first tenure (1991-96) as chief minister, she drew one rupee as salary. The charge against her was that her assets rose from about Rs 30 million in 1991 to around Rs 660 million in just five years.
While DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), which filed the case against her 18 years ago saying she had Rs 660 million of illegally gained assets, is in a celebratory mode, BJP has given a cautious reaction, saying Jayalalitha could take recourse to legal methods.
“The fine will be recovered from the sale of property including jewellery and land that were seized during the trial and is in the court’s custody.”
Jayalalitha can, however, move the high court in Karnataka or Tamil Nadu seeking suspension of the sentence.