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SC verdict on Sasikala’s corruption case today, may break logjam over Tamil Nadu leadership

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 her chances of becoming the chief minister of the state.

india Updated: Feb 14, 2017 00:09 IST
Bhadra Sinha and KV Lakshmana
Bhadra Sinha and KV Lakshmana
Hindustan Times
Combination image of VK Sasikala and O Panneerselvam.
Combination image of VK Sasikala and O Panneerselvam.(Agencies)

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 her chances of becoming the chief minister of the state.

Hours ahead of the verdict, a ruling party MLA made a dramatic appearance at the residence of Sasikala’s challenger, acting chief minister O Panneerselvam, claiming to have scaled a wall to escape from a luxury resort where AIADMK legislators are allegedly held captive by her. The party has denied the claims.

Official sources said in Delhi 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 is locked in a bitter power struggle with Panneerselvam, the man she is hoping to replace.

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.

Sasikala claims the support of at least 134 MLAs but over the past few days several MPs and other party leaders have pledged support to Panneerselvam, who made a dramatic, late-night volte-face last week to claim that he was forced to resign as chief minister by a section of party legislators.

In September, 2014, the trial court had sentenced Jayalalithaa to four years in jail and fined her Rs 100 crore. 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 last month to pave the way for Sasikala to assume the top post. He has also said he was ready to take back the resignation.

After the Karnataka high court overturned a trial court’s verdict and exonerated both Jayalalithaa and Sasikala in May, 2015, the state government challenged the verdict in the top court.

Besides Jayalalithaa – who was the main accused in the case – and Sasikala, the other accused in the case are Jayalalithaa’s foster son Sudhakaran and another aide Ilavarasi. However, with her death, the proceedings against Jayalalithaa will be withdrawn.

The case against Jayalalithaa was registered in 1996 after friend-turned-foe, senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, accused her of acquiring at least Rs 66.65 crore in assets which was disproportionate to her known source of income.

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 Chennai, epicentre of the political tremors, Sasikala and Panneerselvam continued to trade charges as they braced for the top court verdict.

Panneerselvam appeared calm as he made brief speeches to his supporters at his residence and also attended office during the day.

Sasikala, on the other hand, was all aggression as she took on Panneerselvam.

“OPS is a traitor…But I can handle 1000s of Panneerselvams,” Sasikala told supporters people outside her Poes Garden residence.

“I am to Amma what Amma was to MGR,” Sasikala said, invoking Jayalalithaa and the role the former chief minister played during a similar power vacuum after the death of AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran.

She also visited the Golden Bay Resort on Monday, her third visit in as many days, as she sought to keep her flock intact.

“I will stay here with you all,” an emotional Sasikala told MLAs at the resort. “I will watch the news along with you and after the good news, we will all go back to Chennai together.”

Sarvanan’s escape, however, could spark more defections.

First Published: Feb 14, 2017 00:08 IST

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