The Supreme Court verdict in the disproportionate assets case against former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, wannabe CM V.K. Sasikala and two others is a warning to corrupt politicians that however high-and-mighty you may be, the law is above you.
Though the case against Jayalalithaa has abated as she is no more, the two-judge bench has held that she is as guilty of corruption as co-accused Sasikala, who brazenly made a bid for Chief Ministership.
That this case had taken 20 years to come to an end speaks volumes, not just about the usual delays in the law taking its course, but also about how people in power use every means, fair and foul,to escape its clutches.
In independent India, corrupt politicians kept getting away until the Haryana High Court sent then Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala to jail a few years ago.
Today’s verdict is a strong indictment of Jaya’s legacy which in essence meant that ‘if you have people’s support, you can subvert the due process of law’.
The assets case is the last of the corruption cases that dogged Jaya’s stormy political life throughout.
Ironically, all these cases come from her first term as CM of Tamil Nadu between 1991 and 1996. The people threw her regime out in disgust after vulgar displays of wealth and gross misuse of power. Yet, the very same people voted her back to power in 2001. That despite her conviction in two corruption cases which was the basis for disqualifying her from contesting elections in the first place.
While doing a radio programme for AIR on the 2001 Assembly election results, I asked political satirist Cho S. Ramaswamy why the same people who voted her to power on the basis of mere allegations of corruption, chose her again after she was found guilty in two cases. He said: ‘I am equally baffled. Perhaps, people think that keeping a politician out of power for five years is punishment enough’.
When the apex court directed her to step down in 2001 as she was not qualified to be an MLA, much less a CM, she not only got acquitted in the High Court, but bounced back to power in six months..
Using her position, she tried to derail the assets case by getting the prosecuting agency to force many witnesses to turn hostile. DMK president K. Anbazhagan then moved the Supreme Court to get the case transferred out of Tamil Nadu.
Eventually, it was transferred to a special court in Bengaluru and judge Michael Culha held Jaya, Sasi and two others guilty of corrupt practices in September 2014. He also sentenced all of them to four years imprisonment. Besides, he imposed a fine of Rs 100 crore on Jaya and Rs 10 crore on each of the other three-Sasikala, her nephew Sudhakaran and sister-in-law Ilavarasi, all cited as co-accused and abettors.
For a second time she was disqualified, and Jaya was forced out of office… Yet, within six months she got acquittal from Justice K. Kumaraswamy of the Karnatka High Court, paving the way for her to resume office.
The Kumaraswamy verdict was a travesty of justice as he made glaring errors in calculation that brought the value of total assets acquired during the said period, namely Rs 66 crore, within what he held was a permissible limit, namely a 10 per cent appreciation. Not only that, he treated loans taken by Jaya and others as income. There were several infirmities the judgment.
It was this judgment that the apex court has rejected and accepted the Cunha judgment in toto, restoring people’s faith in the judiciary.
In this moment of glory for those fighting for probity in public life is, the media has not given enough attention to DMK president K. Anbazhagan who is No. 2 in the party and a nonagenarian. Justice would not have been done had he not approached the Supreme Court to get the case transferred out of Tamil Nadu.
Equal credit should go to the honest and fearless special court judge Micheal Cunha. His 500-page judgment was a severe indictment of the Jaya regime. And then there was Karnataka Government’s special prosecutor V.B. Acharya told open court that he was being subjected to tremendous pressure.
Tamil Nadu had tall leaders like Rajaji known for simple living and high thinking and Kamaraj who died with just a couple of hundred rupees in his pocket.
Now, the state has become renowned for scientific, all-round corruption. The fact that Sasi, a housekeeper to Jaya, could aspire to Chief Minister by using her ill-gotten wealth, shows what lows public life has sunk to.
It started with DMK president M. Karunanidhi’s rule in the State. When the DMK became part of the UPA, the scourge spread to the national level as evident from mega scams like the 2G.
Honest men like Cunha, Acharya and Anbazhagan are only exceptions to the rule.
So long as people elect dishonest politicians and gangsters like Arun Gawli into office, they will only get the government they deserve and the crusade against corruption will have to go on.