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THE law is finally catching up with the Jayalalitha-Sasikala duo. For five years the former Tamil Nadu chief ministerand her live-in companion believed that they were not accountable to anyone. So when Sasikala Natarajan, after not responding to five summons notices on charges of FERA violations from the Enforcement Directorate (ED), finally presented herself for interrogation on June 20, neither her 'out of power' friend nor the arrogant relatives and musclemen could save her. She was remanded to 14 days judicial custody.
To add to their woes, Principal Sessions Judge A. Ramamurthy has asked the DIG (vigilance) and Anti-Corruption Directorate of Tamil Nadu to investigate the allegations of corruption against Jayalalitha by Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy. The court has given the DIG two months to probe the charges. Swamy had alleged that Jayalalitha's assets were much beyond her income and that she had misused her position to acquire properties from government-run agencies at less than the market price. As chief minister, Jayalalitha's take-home salary was a token one rupee.
For Sasikala and her relatives, the fall of Jayalalitha has come as a bitter blow. The future of many of the projects launched by the Natarajan family, including the Rs 100-crore JJ TV satellite channel, was linked to the AIADMK returning to power. Now as directors of JJ TV, Sasikala and her nephew, V. Bhaskaran, are charged with transferring $6.8 lakh out of the country, without RBI clearance, to pay for hiring transponders. Besides, the ED's remand application also alleges her involvement in the diversion of an NRI deposit in the Madras branch of Indian Bank to buy a tea estate for her nephew and Jayalalitha's foster son, V. Sudhakaran. The ED is investigating two FERA violation cases against Sasikala amounting to Rs 6.18 crore.
The rise of Sasikala and her family has been phenomenal. In 1982, when she was first introduced to Jayalalitha, she was the wife of a government PRO posted at Cuddalore, South Arcot district. In 1984, when her husband was transferred to Madras, Sasikala became close to Jayalalitha. Sasikala had started a video parlour much patronised by Jayalalitha. A year later, Sasikala moved in with Jayalalitha and the two have been living together ever since.
Public attention was drawn towards Sasikala after Jayalalitha came to power in 1991. Not only was the chief minister's friend conspicuous at public functions and treated as a VVIP but she was also known to be the right source to tap to bag a government contract or push a file through any one of the ministries. She also began to have a say in party affairs.
It did not take long for the nephews of the chief minister's companion to cash in. The extent to which power was misused can be gauged from the fact that a minister in the AIADMK was asked to put pressure on cable TV operators to sign up exclusively with Super Duper TV, the cable network wing of JJ TV. However, the satellite channel, launched with the hope of displacing Sun TV, failed to become a winning proposition.
With the AIADMK out of power, the going has become tough for Jayalalitha and her coterie. Her erstwhile senior cabinet colleague, S.D. Somasundaram, has already been arrested in an assault case. Sasikala's husband and three other family members were arrested for attacking photo-journalists who had gone to cover Sasikala appearing before the ED. T.V. Diwakaran, another nephew, has been already charged with FERA violations.
But more than Sasikala's arrest, what has set the alarm bells ringing in the AIADMK is the investigations into Jayalalitha's assets. Though she has vehemently denied any connection with the Jains, the former chief minister's name figures in the confessions of S.K. Jain in which he named the recipients of hawala money. Interestingly, Sasikala's nephew Diwakaran is linked to the hawala operator Amir Bhai who was also involved with the Jains.