And in the midst of it all, Jayalalithaa keeps the guessing game going, on her returning as chief minister and on calling for early assembly polls, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
Overnight -- and literally so -- the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam camp in Tamil Nadu has become sobre and sombre, after a day full of celebrations on the Karnataka high court acquitting party supremo and former chief minister Jayalalithaa in the ‘wealth case’.
Likewise, the despair and disillusion in the divided Opposition camp is giving room to faint rays of hopes, added with a much-needed cause and justification for them to try and come together against the ruling party in the state assembly elections, whenever held between now and when they become due in the first half of next year.
Even more striking could be the increasing perception that the nation’s judiciary, and not just Jayalalithaa (this time, too), could be the centre-piece of those elections in the mind’s eye of the TN voter. This could be more so in the case of the urbanised ‘IT generation’ middle-class, middle-age youth, or so goes the argument.
Karnataka’s special public prosecutor in the case, B V Acharya, may have set the ball-rolling -- and unintentionally so – when, after reading the whole verdict a day later, pointed to mathematical discepancies in the verdict, which had justified acquittal for Jaya and three co-accused.
The numbers in Justice C R Kumarawamy’s order just did not add up, Acharya pointed out. The ‘error’, if it was one, was obvious to the layman and plain eyes.
It would mean that the ‘unaccounted wealth’ in Jaya’s possession would be way outside the 10 per cent leeway granted by the Supreme Court in another case and cited by Justice Kumaraswamy, who also put the figure at 8.12 per cent.
It remains to be seen if the 75-plus percentage point increase in wealth could go up further if one were to ‘add’ the exemption of the kind already granted by trial judge Michael de Cunha while convicting Jaya and others in September 2014.
The Karnataka government, possibly as with any other case, has reportedly directed the state law secretary to study the Kumaraswamy verdict, to see if it required/justified an appeal to the Supreme Court.
All this does not automatically mean that bad days may be back for Jaya and the AIADMK on the legal side. Acharya said they needed to wait to see if the HC would be making the corrections in calculations. If so, it would be pertinent to note the kind and methodology of correction that is imparted.
Going by some ‘national’ TV talk shows on judgment day, legal opinion is at best divided over Karnataka’s right to appeal at this stage, and if the responsibility had already reverted to the department of vigilance and anti-corruption Tamil Nadu.
In quashing the TN appointment of G Bhavani Singh, the special public prosecutor in the trial case after Acharya had throw up his hands and left, to conduct the prosecution case in the high court, too, a three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Dipak Misra, held that Karnataka would continue to be prosecutor, still. Whether the SC ruling would continue to have any bearing on possible appeals before it would remain to be seen.
Whether or not Karnataka returns as prosecutor, the defence-respondents in any SC appeal of the kind could be expected to contest every claim on every aspect of the case -- technical, procedural and factual.
Karnataka apart, Team Jaya could also challenge the locus standi assumed by Subramanian Swamy and DMK general secretary, K Anbazhagan, if they were to move the SC, either as independent prosecutors, or as ‘interested parties assisting the prosecution’ thus far and under specific clearance(s) from the Supreme Court.
However, the ‘additional problem’ was not the only one on which Justice Kumaraswamy acquitted Jayalalithaa. The list included the all-important ‘criminal conspiracy’ that covered Jaya and also the co-accused -- live-in confidante Sasikala and the latter’s kin, J Illavarasi and V N Sudhagaran, once the ‘foster son’ of ‘Amma’. Justice Kumaraswamy has acquitted them all on each one of the charges laid against them.
Shaking up their shock and surprise of the first day, the divided Opposition in Tamil Nadu has found in Justice Kumaraswamy’s purported problems with maths, a cause to fight for, as much legally as (where entailed) politically.
The first one to be off the block was DMK’s M Karunanidhi. In a nearly non-publicised statement almost in the first hour of the judgment, he referred to Justice Kumaraswamy’s open-court observations that the prosecution had proved its case up to 82 per cent whereas the defence only for 32 per cent -- a ‘fail’ if one were to go by examination ranking in schools and colleges.
With Acharya coming out with his figures as against Justice Kumaraswamy’s, Karunanidhi told newsmen that the DMK would cooperate with Karnataka if the state government preferred an appeal. The unsaid part might have been that DMK’s Anbazhagan might go back to the Supreme Court if Karnataka held back.
With the singular exception of recently-revived Tamil Maanila Congress leader G K Vasan, almost every other political party leader in the state is now clinging on to the ‘figures problem’, conferring it a figurative status, too. A cabinet minister in Manmohan Singh’s UPA-II team, Vasan has asked them all to honour the Karnataka HC ruling.
The list of Jaya’s critics includes Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam’s actor-politician Vijaykanth and Pattali Makkal Katchi’s Ramadoss. Vijaykanth has been a silent chief ministerial aspirant all along, and the PMK has since named Ramadoss’s former minister-son, Anbumani, as its nominee for the assembly polls, whenever held.
If the judgment had demoralised them all as only the ‘Indira Gandhi assassination’ had done to the non-Congress parties at the national level ahead of the 1984 parliamentary polls, the judge’s ‘erronenous maths’ has given them a ray of hope.
If nothing else, they are all independently encouraged by their own perceptions of the large rank of urbanised GenNext voter in the state feeling equally shocked and surprised by the turn of events.
To the DMK, especially, the verdict has meant that the rest of the non-AIADMK chief ministerial aspirants would have to bury their ambitions for one more time at the very least, and would have to choose between the ‘Big Two’ in Dravidian polity for the assembly polls.
Going by Jaya-led AIADMK’s stellar performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the state and the rejuvenation that the acquittal has entailed, the ‘lesser parties’ (including the Congress and even the ruling BJP at the Centre) may have little choice but to slip towards the DMK.
It is also not unlikely that as a bargaining chip, the DMK might offer a ‘coalition government, post-poll’ as a carrot, considering the 45 per cent poll share that the AIADMK recorded in 2014, going it all alone.
The DMK holds the dubious distinction of running a ‘minority government’ through the five years since 2006, with the Congress leader of the UPA combine at the Centre, extending ‘outside support’ without a murmur or protest.
While TNCC president E V K S Elangovan seems determined to get back into the DMK alliance in the state for the assembly polls, the BJP in Tamil Nadu seems to be confused more than ever.
In a rare gesture, Jaya as CM congratulated state BJP chief Thamizhisai Soundararajan, when appointed to the post in 2014. Today, Thamizhisai is among the bitterest critics of the AIADMK government, both within the state BJP and otherwise.
Possibly in the aftermath of Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulating Jaya on phone after the HC verdict, senior state BJP leader H Raja is reported to have denied any linkage between the two.
In the midst of it all, Jaya keeps the guessing game going, on her returning as chief minister early on, and taking the state through early assembly polls.
Indications are that she would weigh legal opinion before returning to power, and political options before deciding on recommending assembly dissolution -- which could also mean that there need not be a party-government during the crucial and at times critical run-up to the assembly polls.
Image: A file photograph of Jayalalithaa. Photograph: PTI Photo.
N SathiyaMoorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation.