'Puratchi Thalaivi' Jayalalitha Jayaram may have conquered Tamil Nadu -- but there is a healthy helping of thorns mixed in with the roses being showered on her.
Over the next six months, the AIADMK general secretary will have to free herself from the web of legal cases that the outgoing DMK government headed by Muthuvel Karunanidhi has entangled her in.
AIADMK leaders concede that it is the overwhelmingly popular mandate, and not the legal and constitutional issues, that prompted state Governor Fathima Beevi to invite Jayalalitha to form the next government.
Legally, Governor Beevi's swift action in swearing in Jayalalitha a day after the announcement of the election results could well be interpreted as being incorrect and setting a bad precedent. The opposition DMK is, according to the word in political circles, likely to challenge the decision in court, claiming that a person convicted by the high court and disqualified from contesting elections cannot be sworn in as chief minister.
"But it is not the legal validity of the Election Commission's decision to bar Jayalalitha from contesting the polls that caught the governor's attention," AIADMK MP and former state election commissioner K Mallaichaami told rediff.com
"The results are an overwhelming democratic mandate in favour of Jayalalitha, and no governor can overlook that."
Through the morning on Monday, Jayalalaitha consulted a battery of legal experts headed by Mallaichaami and former Supreme Court judge
V Ramaswamy to explore her options and determine whether she was on strong ground in staking a claim to form the government.
The consensus was that the governor could not in law reject her claim, as the Constitution permits someone who has not stood for election to become chief minister, with the proviso that he or she seeks election within six months of the date of assuming that office.
Given the ambiguous wording of the relevant articles, Articles 164(4) and 75(B), of the Constitution, the question of whether a convicted person who has been rejected by the election machinery can assume office is unclear, ergo debatable.
The governor, herself a former Supreme Court judge, could have taken a legal stand and rejected Jayalalitha's claim, on the grounds that since she was disqualified from seeking election, the question of her getting elected within six months did not arise. After all, the Election Commission has rejected her candidature and as long as that decision stands, Jayalalitha cannot stand for election. Period.
Thus, the governor could have accepted the AIADMK's claim to form the government and requested the party to choose someone else to lead its legislators in the assembly and assume the chief minister's mantle.
"But the governor did not insist on the legal points as what mattered was the overwhelming expression of the people's verdict in the elections in favour of 'Amma'," said AIADMK MP and senior leader K K Kaliappan, whose name had been floated as one of the possible alternatives in the event Jayalalitha's name was rejected.
Political pundits argue that the governor, by endorsing the claim, was seeking to avoid a law-and-order situation, and a Centre-State confrontation, which would surely have resulted had Jayalalitha's claim been turned down.
Thus, the governor took the safe route, and 'anointed' Jayalalitha. Now what?
AIADMK leaders told rediff.com that the strategy over the next six months would be two-fold. First, they believe that now that she is the chief minister, it would be relatively easy for Jayalalitha to get out of cases like the TANSI land deal, in which she was convicted for a period of over two years.
Secondly, Jayalalitha will mount a legal challenge in the Supreme Court against the Election Commission's order of August 28, 1997, barring convicted persons from contesting elections, arguing that the ruling applies differential rules to sitting legislators versus ordinary citizens.
As it stands, the EC order states that no citizen who has been convicted in a court of law for a period in excess of two years may seek election. But the EC order exempts from such a ban legislators who are convicted while holding a seat in either the assembly or Parliament.
This is the point in the EC's order that Jayalalitha's legal battery is poised to train its guns on. "Most definitely she will fight a legal battle against the rejection of her nomination to contest the elections," a senior AIADMK leader said.
Further, she is expected to appeal against her conviction and seek to get it set aside. If she can achieve this inside the six-month deadline, her problems are automatically resolved, and she can seek re-election within the stipulated time frame.
"Puratchi Thalaivi will continue to be the chief minister for the next five years, because she has won in the people's court. That is enough for her," Ramanidharan, the newly elected MLA from Gobichettipalayam, told rediff.com
And that pretty much sums up the mood within the party, at this point in time.
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