April 24, 2001


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Jaya leaves everyone guessing

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

With hours to go before the electoral fate of Jayalalitha will be known, the AIADMK supremo has let politicos and the common people of native Tamil Nadu do the Round Robin, trying to make sense of her last-minute decision to contest two more seats in the May 10 assembly elections in the state, apart from the two for which she had filed nomination papers.

It seems to have puzzled legal pundits and Election Commission officials, who see no particular reason for Jayalalitha filing nomination papers from four constituencies, which by itself can cause disqualification.

According to the Election Commission Handbook for Returning Officers, the nominations of any person filing papers in more than two constituencies, could be rejected, after satisfying themselves "beyond a shadow of doubt" about the genuineness of the papers or authorisation, as the case may be.

The question of genuineness of the nominations has been mandatory, if only to check against mischief, where unknown to the nominee, nominations in his name could be filed in more than two constituencies.

In this case, Jayalalitha herself filed the papers in Krishnagiri and Andipatti in the early days of nomination-filing. Her papers in Bhuvanagiri and Pudukottai were filed by authorised representatives on Monday, the last day set for the purpose.

Though the Tamil media is abuzz with the news since the two new nominations were filed, there has been no denial from Jayalalitha's side. If there is any before the returning officers, it could become as much political meat as legal.

With opinion divided on the larger disqualification issue, there are those who argue that Jayalalitha would rather have her candidature disqualified on technical grounds, than on a substantive issue.

Filing nominations in more than two constituencies could provide the technical reason for disqualification. Against this, the "unresolved issue" on the suspension of her conviction could cause a substantive reason, which, it seems, her camp, would rather not be recorded by the returning officers, if and when her nominations are rejected. Or, so goes the argument.

Indications are that the AIADMK leadership has not lost hope on the assembly polls, per se, with or without Jayalalitha contesting. There are those in the party who feel that any disqualification of Jayalalitha would generate a sympathy wave in her favour, which could ensure the electoral victory of the AIADMK alliance. It is then that they do not want any substantive reason for rejection of her nominations now, being cited for denying her the chance of becoming chief minister without being elected a legislator.

It is too early to say if such a situation would arise, or if the constitutional authorities like the governor and higher judiciary would entertain such a situation, if it arose. There is also the possibility of the AIADMK allies seeking another chief ministerial nominee from within the party, or outside, if only to ensure that the spirit of the law was not violated, and to ensure that they did not become party to making a mockery of constitutional provisions, and the spirit of these provisions.

In this context, sources say that the returning officers could still record all reasons for the rejection of a nomination, if it came to rejecting it.

According to these sources, the returning officers would have to record all the reasons for rejection, without singling one, technical or otherwise. "That being the case, the question of escaping the wrath of substantive grounds would not arise," said these sources, adding, "Even without the rejection of the nomination on substantive groundss, anyone could challenge the possibility of Jayalalitha becoming chief minister, if those substantive grounds existed, after all.

For the present, the Jayalalitha camp is believed to have despatched senior advocates to Krishnagiri and Andipatti, to represent her before the returning officer. The ruling DMK, which has nominees in both constituencies, is going slow. The party does not want to be blamed for taking a perverse interest in seeing Jayalalitha disqualified, or lent remotest credence to her camp's charge of the ruling party seeking to influence the returning officers.

Against this, Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, is camping in the district town of Theni, where the Andipatti nominations would be scrutinised. With state Janata Party chief V S Chandralekha contesting the Andipatti seat, Swamy is likely to argue her case for disqualifying Jayalalitha, before the returning officer.

Indications are that the returning officers would still have to give time for the nominees whose nominations have been rejected, to prefer their case.

The returning officer, beforehand, should record his reasons for rejection, and issue a copy to the nominee, and the final decision would then rest with the Election Commission.

The poll panel will also be the final arbiter, if in a case like Jayalalitha's, the nominations are rejected in some constituencies and accepted in others. For, it would otherwise become a travesty of natural justice and fairplay, involving not only the disqualified nominee but also other contestants in the field.

There is a growing feeling even in second-line AIADMK circles that Jayalalitha may have squandered away whatever sympathy she may have been able to purchase since launching her election campaign last week, by filing nominations from four constituencies. "Voters see it as a mockery of the system, than as a possible expression of Amma's confidence," said a party leader from Madurai, whereabouts Jayalalitha was campaigning through the past week.

Incidentally, in Bhuvanagiri, the ruling DMK-led alliance has fielded the controversial former Indian Bank chairman M Gopalakrishnan, as the nominee of the Yadava-strong Makkal Tamil Desam party of S Kannappan, in turn, the equally controversial one-time ministerial aide of Jayalalitha.

While Gopalakrishnan is being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation for alleged misdemeanours in the running of Indian Bank, and the possible funnelling of crores of rupees to non-performing industries, Kannappan is a co-accused with Jayalalitha in the coal imports case, where the progress of the special court proceedings have been slow, because of the large-scale investigations that it entails.

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