On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of India brought an end to a two-decade-old disproportionate assets case filed against the late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, her aide VK Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi. The two-judge apex court bench convicted Sasikala and the two to four years in prison and Rs 10 crore each.
The case has gone through many twists and turns: Seven years after it was filed, in 2003, the case was shifted from Tamil Nadu to neighbouring Karnataka. About 11 years later, the special court convicted Jayalalithaa and the three others. In 2015, the Karnataka High Court acquitted the accused and this was challenged by the Karnataka government in the Supreme Court. The apex court’s 500-page judgment on Tuesday found incriminating evidence against the accused. However, the proceedings against the late chief minister were abated.
The Supreme Court verdict is good news on many counts. The most important is that it sends the message that the law will catch up with those who indulge in financial irregularities, no matter how powerful and politically well connected they are. On the political front, the verdict seals Sasikala’s electoral chances and with that her ambitions of becoming the chief minister of the state for the next 10 years.
The legal options before her are limited: Sasikala can file a review petition, which will be heard by the two judges, and thereafter file a curative petition before the court. Sasikala could still run the AIADMK government from jail, if the faction loyal to her — led by Edappadi Palaniswamy — forms the government. But that will be unfortunate. It will reflect poorly on the party and above all, it will be injustice to those voters who have been against Sasikala’s involvement in the party or government. Many have welcomed this judgment. This is a reflection of the anger against the way Sasikala had gone about taking over the power structure of the AIADMK and state government.
Now that the Supreme Court has given its order, it is time to focus on governance. But for that to happen, Governor C Vidyasagar Rao must end the political stalemate and administrative uncertainty in the state. He must appoint the leader of AIADMK’s legislature party as chief minister and ask him to face a floor test in the assembly.
At the time of going to press, Mr Rao had neither appointed a chief minister nor called for a floor test.