Right to corruption in India: Tamil Nadu CM aspirant Sasikala back to jail, convicted in disproportionate assets case!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
One really wonders if elections are regularly held in India only to give mandate for corrupt politicians to loot the nation. The politicians and their administrative allies take the mandate as popular agreement for promoting corruption in the country and every state.
India’s Hon. Supreme Court has made a historic attempt to warn the politicians of punitive measures if they continue to be engaged in corrupt deals.
And AIADMK’s interim General Secretary VK Sasikala has been convicted in a disproportionate assets case by the Supreme Court, on Feb. 14 Tuesday. SC convicted Sasikala and her two relatives, VN Sudhakaran and Elavarasi by restoring the trial court verdict in toto directing them to serve the remaining jail term.
In so doing, the apex court set aside the Karnataka High Court verdict that had acquitted her in the case filed in 1996 that also involved late chief minister J Jayalalithaa.
The apex court restored in toto the judgment and findings of a trial court in Bengaluru, which had initially held guilty all the accused, including Sasikala’s two relatives, VN Sudhakaran and Elavarasi. The two-judge bench comprising Justices PC Ghose and Amitava Roy directed Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Elavarasi to surrender forthwith to the trial court in Bengaluru and serve the remaining part of a four-year jail term.
VK Sasikala, convicted by the Supreme Court of corruption and given a four-year jail term, is likely to surrender in Bengaluru on Wednesday, sources in her party, the AIADMK, have said. She came back to her Poes Garden residence late at night from Golden Bay, the five-star resort on the outskirts of Chennai where she was huddled with over a 100 party legislators since morning.
The Supreme Court today also made strong comments about the role of Ms Jayalalithaa, who was accused number 1 in the case, upholding the verdict of the trial court which had convicted both her and Ms Sasikala and sentenced them to four years each in jail. The Karnataka High Court had acquitted them and the Karnataka government appealed against the acquittal in the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court verdict means Ms Sasikala cannot hold public office or contest elections for 10 years, the period of her jail term plus six years after that, ending her bid to be the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. Ms Sasikala, Ms Jayalalithaa’s closest companion, was charged with helping her amass illicit wealth worth over 60 crores in the 1990s. The judges overturned a High Court order that had acquitted Ms Jayalalithaa, Ms Sasikala and two others in the case. Ms Sasikala and the others convicted today have also been fined 10 crores each.
A totally disappointed and fully disillusioned VK Sasikala said nobody can separate her from and her thoughts will continue to remain with the party even from inside the jail AIADMK ( meaning she would enjoy the resources of Jayalalithaa and AIADMK). She said the present case was “filed” by DMK and asked the partymen to strongly resist it. “Only I can be jailed, not the care or concern I have for this party. Wherever I will be, my thoughts will be here,” said an emotional Sasikala. She said she will be thinking about the party round the clock.
In her address to party MLAs hours after her conviction, Sasikala also stressed the need for staying united and exuded confidence that Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao would invite her party to form the government. Sasikala also said she was happy in a way that Jayalalithaa was not alive to “face difficulties,” although she said she was not bothered to undergo such problems.
Earlier, newly elected AIADMK legislature party leader Edappadi K Palaniswami had met Rao and staked claim to form government. “For me, to form government, to set up Amma’s memorial, you should remain united,” she said.
Later, Sasikala reached the Poes Garden residence from the five star hotel where many MLAs are locked in to deny the OPS anay chance to meet them, and said, “dharma will undergo challenges but one has to overcome it.” She reiterated that wherever she will be, her thoughts will be with the party and its supporters and asked them to remain bold at this time of crisis. “I will steer the party even from inside a cage,” she told party supporters who had gathered there.
The 62-year-old Sasikala said (possibly joked) that upon her return from the prison, the AIADMK government will be formed and that the party workers should strive in this regard. She urged them not to lose their composure and stay united in the interests of the party.
Meanwhile, ending days of speculation on whether she would join hands with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, Deepa Jayakumar, late Jayalalithaa’s niece, today said she would work with him as if they are “two hands of the AIADMK”.
Exactly a week after he announced that he was forced to quit as Chief Minister, Panneerselvam, flanked by MLAs and MPs in his camp, paid a visit to late Jayalalithaa’s burial site at Marina and offered homage. Minutes after his arrival, Deepa also reached the venue and jointly paid homage to the late Chief Minister at the burial site for about 20 minutes. “We will work together jointly as two hands of AIADMK in future for the people of Tamil Nadu. He asked for justice. I too ask the same,” Deepa told reporters.
Education Minister K Pandiarajan, former Electricity Minister ‘Natham’ Viswanathan, AIADMK MPs including V Maitreyan, senior party leaders C Ponnaiyan and E Madhusudhanan were also at the memorial.
After paying homage Deepa went to the house of Panneerselvam at Greenways Road and was given a traditional welcome by family members of the Chief Minister.
Recently Panneerselvam had said Deepa and her brother Deepak were the only blood relations of Jayalalithaa. “When Amma’s mortal remains were in the hospital on the night of December 5, she (Deepa) was not allowed to pay her respects even at that time,” he had alleged.
Chennai’s Poes Garden, residence of late J Jayalalithaa, was the hub of conspiracy and the money flow from one account to another proved the existence of an “active conspiracy” to launder the then Chief Minister’s “ill-gotten wealth” to purchase properties in the names of the shell companies, the Supreme Court said today. The apex court said V K Sasikala and her two relatives — V N Sudhakaran, Jayalalithaa’s foster son, and Elavarasi, the widow of Sasikala’s elder brother, resided at Poes Garden with Jayalalithaa “without any blood relation between them”. They were “accommodated” there, not on humanitarian concern, but pursuant to the conspiracy hatched by them.
“The flow of money from one account to the other proves that there existed active conspiracy to launder the ill-gotten wealth of Jayalalithaa for purchasing properties in the names of the firms,” a bench of Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy said while convicting Sasikala and her relatives in the 19-year-old disproportionate assets case. “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,” the bench said.
“The unimpeded, frequent and spontaneous inflow of funds from the account of Jayalalithaa to those of the other co-accused and the firms/companies involved, overwhelmingly demonstrate the collective culpable involvement of the respondents in the transactions in the face of their overall orientations so as to render the same to be masked banking exchanges though involving several accounts but mostly of the same bank. No other view is possible,” the apex court said.
The bench said these companies were “operating” from Poes Garden and “it cannot be accepted that she (Jayalalithaa) was unaware of the same even though she feigned ignorance about the activities carried on by Sasikala and two others. They were residing with Jayalalithaa without any blood relation between them”.
The bench held that though Sasikala and her relatives had claimed to have independent sources of income, the fact regarding setting up of these firms and acquisition of large tracts of land out of the funds provided by Jayalalithaa indicated that there was a conspiracy among them. This indicated “that, all the accused congregated in the house of Jayalalithaa neither for social living, nor Jayalalithaa allowed them free accommodation out of humanitarian concern, rather the facts and circumstances proved in evidence undoubtedly point out that Sasikala and her two relatives were accommodated in the house of Jayalalithaa pursuant to the criminal conspiracy hatched by them to hold the assets of Jayalalithaa,” it noted.
The apex court also said that the conspiracy cannot be proved by direct evidence and has to be essentially inferred from the proven circumstances, “the ultimate conclusion with regard thereto has to be deduced from the attendant state of affairs cumulatively taken”.
“It is a trite proposition that in the case of conspiracy, each member thereof becomes the agent of the other and in law is bound by their actions inter se,” it said. The bench further said that so far as Jayalalithaa and Sasikala are concerned, “one is the agent for other as partners of two firms and additionally Sasikala is the attorney of Jayalalithaa and is a co-conspirator, as imputed”. It referred to the statement of a prosecution witness and noted that a “blanket instruction” was issued by Jayalalithaa that the directions made by Sasikala from time to time “ought to be followed and consequently the latter was to decide in which account the huge cash deposits were to be made”.
“The numerous inter accounts transfers would only corroborate massive unaccounted cash deposits being made, the origin whereof had been number 36, Poes Garden, Chennai. For all intents and purposes, these accounts were construed to be one,” the bench noted.
The bizarre political drama in Tamil Nadu takes a dramatic twist with the conviction of VK Sasikala in the disproportionate assets case. The Supreme Court verdict on Tuesday virtually ended her chief ministerial ambition. A review petition is still an option, but… And that’s indeed a big but. However, the verdict in the two-decade-old case was not entirely unexpected. The miscalculation of her disproportionate assets in the Karnataka High Court verdict of 2015 was all too glaring.
That makes her hurry to become chief minister a bit perplexing. It is possible that she wanted to take full control of the party before the court’s verdict. It would have served her interest better to have a chief minister of her choice. That way she would still be the person in charge of the AIADMK and the state. In short, she wanted to have a proxy — her own O Panneerselvam — before going to jail.
It’s obvious she was not expecting any resistance from Panneerselvam after smoothly taking over as the party’s leader. But the development over the last few days, aided by the delay from the governor Vidayasagar Rao to take a call on the issue of chief minister, foiled her game plan.
Where does that leave Panneerselvam? It’s not clear yet. Sasikala has just made his case complicated by issuing him the expulsion order. She has also unleashed a fresh round of power struggle by selecting four-time legislator E Palanisamy as the party’s leader. It means Panneerselvam now has to win over a large number of lawmakers to prove his acceptability within the party and stake his claim to be chief minister.
These numbers may not be easy to get. Sasikala commanded 119 legislators while he has managed to muster 10 and two parliamentarians. It is hazy how many of those 119 MLAs will bolt to his side after the court’s verdict. Reports say at least 50 are willing to switch sides. The next battleground for him would be the legislative Assembly, where he will need to prove his majority when Rao asks him to do it.
Whichever way the developments go, it is certain that the AIADMK won’t remain the same. Neither Panneerselvam nor Palanisamy enjoys the cult status of the late J Jayalalithaa. The cadre had decided to accord it to Sasikala, calling her Chinnamma. A stint in power would have allowed her to establish herself and move out of the shadows of Jayalalithaa. That is closed now. The party is likely to witness heavy internal conflict in the coming days.
A victory for either claimant for the top would not be the end of the problems. The party could head for a split too. Panneerselvam has already claimed victory and invoked Amma in his bid to attract legislators in Sasikala’s camp to support him. But it won’t be easy for him to move ahead. Despite being chief minister a number of times, he is still in the company of equals. Not many would be prepared to accept him as leader. Being Amma’s proxy may prove to be his undoing. Palanisamy is still an untested quantity. He will need to prove himself. Being Sasikala’s proxy is not certainly the same as being Jayalalithaa’s. Neither has the force of personality.
Expect the leadership conflict to escalate and be damaging on the party in the coming days.
From the verge of being the Chief Minister of the second biggest economy in India to a jail for four years — Sasikala’s conviction and sentencing by the Supreme Court this morning could not have been more dramatic.
Whether she had feared such an outcome or not, practically it is the end of the road for Sasikala’s political career. Four years in jail and six years of debarment from contesting elections afterwards means no more possibility to assume an office of authority for the next tens years. And ten years is too long a period. The fact, that the jail will be in Karnataka and there is no government to back her is indeed bad news for her.
Equally devastated will be her family — often called the “Mannargudi family” and despised by a lot of people — because they will find it tough without political or government patronage. Her loss of power could mean a floodgate of criminal cases and public anger against them too.
While Sasikala goes down in history as the first politician to be jailed by the Supreme Court in Tamil Nadu for corruption, the humble O Panneerselvam will rise as the new star of Dravidian politics. His popularity, that has been rising since his late night revolt against Sasikala at Marina a week ago, will skyrocket now. No proxy that Sasikala will leave behind to take care of her interests can match OPS’s image.
By the end of Tuesday, he will achieve a cult status. The fastest rise to political stardom in India, after perhaps a successful popular Arvind Kejriwal. In fact, he rose faster than Kejriwal, who took nearly two years.
It’s now only a matter of time before more MLAs switch sides and OPS takes over the control of AIADMK. So far, the comparison of his revolt had been to the split in the AIADMK after its founder and former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran (MGR) died in 1987, in which Jayalalithaa trumped MGR’s wife Janaki Ramachandran. Like in the case of OPS, it was a horizontal split in which most of the leaders were with Janaki while the rank and file were with Jaya. In less than a year, Jaya pushed Janaki into insignificance and went on to dominate the state politics till she died three months ago.
OPS’s chances looked bright because of the comparison, but unlike Janaki, Sasikala was a tough nut to crack. Her close association with Jaya had made her a seasoned politician even at debut and she was looking menacing with a lot of tricks under her sleeve even as OPS was patient and optimistic. And the tipping point, unlike in the past, came from the Supreme Court (SC). This time, it was more lethal and conclusive. While it took Jaya a historically violent floor test and two elections to establish herself, for OPS, the SC verdict made it absolutely peaceful and irreversible at least for a few years.
OPS has anyway been riding the popularity wave and his rise to the top is good for politics in the state because he is probably the man who will infuse some semblance of democracy into the way the game is played in Tamil Nadu. So far, he has been free of family interests and if he can rebuild the party’s character by allowing freedom of expression and rewarding merit, it will augur well not only for the AIADMK, but for the general political climate too. So far, he appeared to have been democratic and self-effacing. And he has been like this for the last two decades.
The only thing he ought to watch out for now is the possibility of new power centres around him. It’s inevitable, but that a lot of people risked their future and migrated to his side indeed shows some character of the people with him. It certainly takes courage in a regime dominated by the threats and opportunism. He has to now go in for a South African style reconciliation so that people are not restricted by their past.
Other than OPS, the man who will be hailed equally high, will be Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, who chose to wait and not to be browbeaten by Sasikala’s pressure tactics. The odds had been stacked against OPS, not only because the MLAs had been reportedly detained by the Sasikala camp disallowing them to express their free will, but also because the state police and administration were not willing to side with him because of the possible aftermath if Sasikala became the Chief Minister. It did cost him considerably, and his counter move happened quite late when he finally changed the police intelligence chief on Monday. Had it happened earlier, the MLAs would have been freer. Anyway, with a single stroke, the judgment has set everything in his favour.
Other than the OPS’ faction, the party that has gained big time is the BJP. It was the BJP’s calculated intervention that has created OPS. Although nobody admits it publicly, it’s the Centre’s support that made him change his mind after his resignation and push forward with a risky alternative plan. The Governor’s resolute stand also helped him in defeating Sasikala’s premature attempt at usurping power.
The verdict also has saved the Congress high command that was in two minds whether to support OPS or not. In 1996, they made a blunder by supporting Jaya when the entire state faction opposed it, seceded and became a new party. The situation was so similar, the public sentiment was decisively in favour of OPS and any move against it would have been unpopular.
Ultimately, what an exciting story it has been. Rarely does politics get this dramatic and sensational.
With “Chinnamma” Sasikala going to jail, it looks more and more MLAs would feel free to take a firm decision and save the party by joining the CM Panneerselvam.