The Supreme Court will deliver its verdict in a 21-year-old corruption case involving AIADMK leader VK Sasikala on Tuesday, a judgment which could potentially impact the political crisis in Tamil Nadu.
Official sources said a bench of justices PC Ghose and AK Roy will “assemble tomorrow at 10.30 (am) to deliver the verdict” in the disproportionate assets case in which former chief minister J Jayalalithaa is also an accused.
The two judges will pronounce separate judgments and a split verdict could help Sasikala, who has staked claimed to the post of chief minister and is locked in a bitter power struggle with the man she is hoping to replace, O Panneerslvam.
The Karnataka high court had overturned a trial court’s verdict and exonerated both Jayalalithaa and Sasikala in the case in May, 2015.
The Karnataka government challenged the high court verdict in the top court.
Sasikala, a long-time aide of Jayalalithaa, is locked in a bitter power struggle with acting chief minister O Panneerselvam over government formation in the state.
Sasikala was elected as the AIADMK’s legislature party leader last week, paving the way for her to become the chief minister. Panneerselvam, however, revolted in a dramatic, late-night announcement, saying he was forced to resign.
Sasikala claims the support of at least 134 MLAs though several MPs and other party leaders have pledged support to the acting chief minister. (Follow live updates here)
If convicted, Sasikala will be barred from contesting polls for six years. She will be ineligible to be the chief minister as the Constitution mandates election to the assembly within six months of assuming office.
In a related development, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi advised Tamil Nadu governor Vidyasagar Rao on Monday to hold a composite floor test in the assembly to ascertain the strength of the two claimants to the throne. Rohatgi gave his legal opinion in response to a query from the governor.
Besides Jayalalithaa – who was the main accused in the case – and Sasikala, there are three other co-accused in the case. However, with her death the proceedings against Jayalalithaa stands abated.
The case against Jayalalithaa was registered in 1996 after friend-turned-foe, senior BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy, accused her of acquiring at least Rs 66.65 crore in assets which was disproportionate to her known source of income.
A Chennai court later added the names of Sasikala, Jayalalithaa’s foster son Sudhakaran and another aide Ilavarasi, to the case.
In 2003, the top court moved the case out of Tamil Nadu for a fair trial. The order was passed on an application filed by DMK shortly after Jayalalithaa came to power.
In September, 2014, the trial court had sentenced her to four years in jail and a Rs 100 crore fine. It had also ordered confiscation of property allegedly held by the four accused.
Jayalalithaa had to resign following the verdict and she had propped up Panneerselvam as the chief minister, the first time he took over reins of the state.
He became chief minister again after her death in December but quit a few days later. He has said he was ready to take back the resignation as it was forced upon him.