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More than people's verdict, court verdict matters for Jayalalithaa

April 30, 2014 13:49 IST

Unpredictable polling in Tamil Nadu, and criminal cases stacked against Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, will be the two key factors to be taken into consideration when the new government is formed at the Centre, observes N Sathiya Moorthy.

Even as the rest of the nation, and much of the world, eagerly await the results of the elections, Tamil Nadu is even more anxiously anticipating two additional verdicts -- from trial courts in Chennai and Bangalore, in criminal cases against Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. If convicted in either or both cases, Jayalalithaa may lose her chief ministerial job and also her legislative position, going by past verdicts of the Supreme Court.

The single-day polling for all 39 constituencies in Tamil Nadu, along with the lone seat in the Union Territory of Puducherry, on April 24 witnessed a high 73.67 per cent voting, on an average, with women voters marginally higher than men. It was only the second highest turnout for a Lok Sabha poll after the historic elections of 1967. The simultaneous polls to the state assembly then witnessed the still-fledgling Dravidra Munnetra Kazagham sweep the Congress out of power.  

Court cases come alive

Whether it would be a temporary cooling-off period for the chief minister, or would there be more to it, would be known when courts in Chennai and Bangalore progress with pending cases against her, and pronounce their respective verdicts in the weeks and/or months to come. Jayalalithaa’s lawyers, as innovatively as ever, had ensured that she need not have to appear before either during poll-time.

Both cases are back on stream. On the admission of Bhavani Singh, the controversial Public Prosecutor that he was ready to argue the wealth case against Jayalalithaa, at the end of the three-week medical recess sought by him, the Supreme Court has ordered the trial to go ahead. The apex court also slapped a fine of Rs 20,000 against him, down from Rs 1,20,000 ordered by the trial court for non-cooperation of sorts.

With this, the trial recommenced on the otherwise scheduled date of April 29, where Bhavani Singh resumed his forceful final arguments against Jayalalithaa and co-accused in the case, including confidante Sasikala and the latter’s kin. In between, the Karnataka high court had also upheld the trial court’s dismissal of an interlocutory petition of discharge from an accused corporate, as ‘delaying tactic’ – but not before increasing the ‘costs’ by ten times to Rs 1 lakh.

Almost simultaneously but absolutely independent of each other, a criminal court in Chennai has now been posted for May 19 in the case against Jayalalithaa and Sasikala for non-submission of income-tax returns and non-inclusion of relevant facts, when submitted. The court will then decide on the fresh date on which the two should appear before it, the day having been delayed already, with the accused citing various reasons.

How will it play out?

While the election verdict is expected on May 16, the court verdicts are not expected sooner. Yet, the Bangalore case, if it makes the same progress as was intended by the Supreme Court when it directed a speedy trial a decade or so ago, could be a close call, both in terms of timing and the verdict per se. The income tax case in Chennai, too, could cut either way, as and when the judgment is pronounced.

Such a turn, along with the election verdict, may have consequences for government formation at the Centre, if it leads to a ‘hung parliament’, and a DMK or AIADMK alliance became necessary for government formation. With the one-time front-runner in the BJP not talking about numbers any more, and conversely launching vitriolic personal attacks against rival Congress leaders, and not even sparing West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee -- with equally vicious retorts from every side -- the role of either of the ‘Dravidian majors’ is seen as a post-poll possibility that could not be discounted early on.

However, the problem is two-fold. On the one hand, despite speculation of every kind, no one is sure about the number of seats the BJP-led NDA will bag at the national-level, or in the state, or those that the AIADMK and the DMK could win in Tamil Nadu. For both Dravidian parties, joining hands with the BJP, post results, could be a ready embarrassment during the long run-up to the 2016 assembly polls, where the ‘minorities and Dalits’ count as a vote-bank, at times split but not splintered.

With the post results possibilities in mind, the DMK’s Muslim party allies have been meeting party supremo M Karunanidhi, and reportedly gauging his mood on joining or supporting a BJP-led government at the Centre. Khader Moideen, state president of the Indian Union Muslim League, was forthright in his observation after meeting Karunanidhi. He expressed the hope that the DMK would not join hands with the BJP. Karunanidhi too has reiterated his campaign commitment in this regard.

A BJP-AIADMK post results alliance could be a dual problem for the national party. On the one hand, it would have to forcefully eat all the ‘Modi vs Lady’ campaign criticisms by Jayalalithaa. Having climbed the high moral hobby horse on corruption and court verdicts, they would have to think ahead, one way or the other, on the possibility of trial court verdicts going against Jayalalithaa, and its moral and political impact on any government formed at the Centre.

What is true of the BJP would be true of every other party or combine hoping to form a post-poll government at the Centre, even as the AIADMK, like the DMK, would be calculating the possible damage to future vote-share if any coalition with the BJP were to materialise. In between, should one or both court verdicts were to go against Jayalalithaa, pending appeals, she may have to demit office as chief minister (going by the 2001 Supreme Court order in the Tansi land case against her) and as a member of the legislative assembly (as per the SC order in the ‘Lalu Prasad Yadav case’, circa 2013).

N Sathiya Moorthy is a veteran journalist and political analyst, and is at present Director, Observer Research Foundation (Chennai Chapter).

Image is for representational purposes only.

N Sathiya Moorthy