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Legal eagle: Jayalalithaa's 'nemesis' in courts returns

Formidable public prosecutor BV Acharya is back in the driver's seat in a graft case against J Jayalalithaa.

india Updated: May 10, 2015 00:12 IST
Sandhya Ravishankar
Sandhya Ravishankar
Hindustan Times
Jayalalithaa,Jayalalithaa disproportionate assets case,AIADMK

The "wily old fox", as he is known in legal circles, is all smiles as he prepares to open up in a freewheeling chat with Hindustan Times about former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa's disproportionate assets (DA) case. "Certainly this is one the most important cases in my life," says BV Acharya, 81, who has been brought back by the Karnataka government as the special public prosecutor (SPP).

"Which other case has received so much public attention at a national level?" he grins.

As the countdown to judgement day begins in Jayalalithaa's appeal in the Karnataka High Court, an unexpected turn of events has brought Acharya back to the helm. This follows an order from the Supreme Court on April 27 that the appointment of Bhavani Singh as SPP in Jayalalithaa's appeal in the high court was "bad in law".

As the order came in the first half of the day, the Karnataka government quickly approached the one man who knew the case inside out.

Read: Jayalalithaa sentenced to 4 years in jail in corruption case

"I was in Mangalore having my lunch when the call came," says Acharya. "I had just seen the judgement details on TV when the government told me - you are the only one who can do it. If they had had more time maybe they would have called someone else.

"But there was only a day's time. The Supreme Court order came on April 27 and we had to hand in written submissions by the evening of April 28. I personally felt it would have been arrogance on my part to refuse. I took an evening flight and came back the same day to Bengaluru and began work on the written submissions. We managed to file it well within the deadline at 4pm the next day."

AIADMK's nightmare

The name BV Acharya strikes terror in the hearts of AIADMK leaders and cadre in Tamil Nadu. On April 28, when the Karnataka government announced Acharya's appointment as SPP in the appeal in Jayalalithaa's DA case, the collective hearts of the "Amma coterie" sank.

As one senior AIADMK leader put it at the time, "Now we really are in the soup!"

Acharya's history with this case has been long and often laced with vitriol. He was appointed SPP in the trial of Jayalalithaa's DA case by the Karnataka government in 2004. For eight of the 18 years that the trial took to reach a conclusion, Acharya led from the front.

He is credited with speeding up the case by at least a decade or so, thanks to his aggressive legal strategy.

"This case is an example of why there is a need for a system that guarantees speedy justice," explains Acharya.

"If trials drag on like this for close to two decades, witnesses turn hostile and in some cases, even the complainant turns hostile. In this case, although the delay was largely due to the accused, everybody contributed. Various circumstances led to even the Supreme Court staying the case for four years. If I had not withdrawn the wealth case and quashed a number of petitions, this trial could have gone on for another 15 to 20 years."

Alleged harassment

Acharya has alleged victimisation and harassment at the hands of AIADMK supporters during the course of his stint as SPP during the earlier trial. He has detailed these in his memoirs "All From Memory" released in November 2014.

In February 2012, Acharya was given an ultimatum by the then newly formed BJP government in Karnataka: Choose between the post of advocate general of Karnataka and SPP in Jayalalithaa's DA case.

Acharya famously chose the latter, giving up the prestigious post of advocate general, simply to continue the good fight. Pressure, however, continued to mount and in August 2012, Acharya's resignation was accepted.

"I have gained a lot of experience by conducting this case," laughs Acharya, refusing to dwell on the situation.

Acharya says he only accepted the role of SPP in this case again since his role will be limited. "Today the situation is different," he explains. "The trial is over, appeal too is almost over. The role of the SPP now is strictly 'Ek din ka sultan'," he laughs.

"I doubt very much if I would have accepted if it had involved a longer tenure. I am past 80 and I do not want to get into a long trial. If it goes to the Supreme Court and if the Karnataka government wants me to continue, I shall consider it then."

Read: One wedding and four convictions, the unravelling of Jayalalithaa

Within a day of his appointment as SPP, Acharya pulled one more rabbit out of his hat. His 14-page written submission in the Karnataka High Court said the appeal process was null and void as the appointment of the SPP itself was invalid. Acharya urged the judge to dismiss the entire appeal hearing as not maintainable. And if he has his way, the dubious distinction of being Jayalalithaa's nemesis will stick.

Acharya laughs at this title. "Nemesis? No, I don't think so," he says. "But there is one thing. At the end of this case, I have the satisfaction that I was able to conduct myself as a public prosecutor is expected to, being fair to both the prosecution and to the accused."

(Sandhya Ravishankar is an independent journalist based in Chennai.)

First Published: May 04, 2015 18:43 IST