“Jayalaithaa’s Poes Garden Home Was Hub Of Conspiracy” ~ Supreme Court Justices
The unexpected demise of AIADMK supremo Jayaram Jayalalithaa has changed the political landscape of Tamil Nadu politics and has brought instability. Jayalalithaa, affectionately called Amma by her admirers, ruled TN with an iron hand being both the Chief Minister as well as the General Secretary of the AIADMK she commanded absolute loyalty from her Ministers and other party functionaries. Any infraction, any sign of disloyalty drew swift retaliation from Jayalalithaa herself. Ministers and other party functionaries were summarily sacked from their posts, including primary membership of the party through press releases. No formal charges, inquiries or explanations were asked from those disciplined. Jayalalithaa as the supremo of the AIADMK promoted, demoted, used and discarded party men at her whim and fancy with cold-blooded ruthlessness or serene benevolence. She was a benevolent dictator for want of a better word. She treated the party for all intents and purposes as her personal fiefdom.
Events began to move fast within hours of the announcement Jayalalithaa’s demise at 11.30 pm on December 5, 2016. While she was warded at Apollo hospital there were rumours circulating that Jayalalithaa was dead long ago. I heard this rumour in person when I landed in Chennai airport on the morning of September 29th. There were rumours, quite unfounded, that Sasikala had poisoned Jayalalithaa after or before admission to the hospital on September 22nf. Surprisingly many swallowed hook. line and sinker such news despite its absurdity. The rumour mill continued to work overtime since Apollo hospital did not issue regular press releases about Jayalaithaa’s medical condition. Nor any one allowed to see her including acting Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, acting chief Minister and other Ministers. The following is how events unfolded from day one.
December 05 – J Jayalalithaa dies at Chennai Apollo Hospital at the age of 68 after suffering a cardiac arrest. O. Panneerselvam, popularly known as OPS, is swiftly sworn in as Chief Minister.
December 29 – Sasikala is appointed the acting general secretary of AIADMK after the party’s general council unanimously passed a resolution.
February 05 – OPS resigns as the CM for “personal reasons.” Sasikala elected as head of the legislative party, makes plans to form the government the next day. Governor C Vidyalaya Rao accepts OPS’ resignation, but orders that he continues holding the post until a new CM is elected.
February 06 – Plans to elect Sasikala as CM is postponed, as Governor Vidyasagar Rao says he is unable to attend the ceremony due to scheduling issues.
February 07 – OPS meditates for 40 minutes next to Jayalaithaa’s memorial. He then makes startling revelations to reporters claiming he was “forced to resign,”
February 09 – OPS camp gets a huge boost after senior leader E Madhusudhanan, the party’s presidium chairperson, joins them.
February 10 – Sasikala takes 129 MLAs and keeps them at Golden Bay resort to prevent any defections to OPS’ side.
February 14 – Sasikala is convicted in the DA case and sentenced to 4 years in jail. Edappadi K Palaniswami appointed head of the legislature party. OPS expelled from AIADMK.
February 15 – OPS forms a rival faction and at least 10 MLA’s and 12 MPs join him.
February 18 – Palaniswami wins confidence vote amid high drama and unruly scenes in the Assembly. One hundred and twenty two members voted in support and only 11 voting against it. The Speaker expels DMK members for unruly behaviour and disturbing the proceedings of the assembly.
What dashed the hopes of Sasikala, derisively dubbed Jayalalithaa’s House Keeper, getting appointed as Chief Minister is the judgement delivered by the Supreme Court in the disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa, VK Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran. They were booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act in 1996 for allegedly amassing unaccounted wealth worth nearly Rs 67 crores. Jayalalithaa when she contested from Srirangam constituency in May, 2011 Assembly elections had declared her assets to the tune of Rs 51.40 crores. One year later in June 2015 Jayalalithaa declared assets to the tune of Rs.117.13 crores when she filed her nomination papers for the R.K. Nagar constituency.
On 27 September in 2014, a special Bangalore court found Jayalalithaa guilty and sentenced her to four years in jail and Rs.100 crores fine along with her close aid (இணை பிரியா தோழி) Sasikala and two others. Thus Jayalalithaa became the first incumbent Chief Minister in India to be disqualified from holding office due to conviction in a disproportionate assets case. Following the conviction, all four accused spent 21 days in jail. Though Jayalalithaa became the first incumbent Chief Minister to be convicted there were other Chief Ministers convicted out of office.
1. Madhu Koda (Chief Minister of Jharkhand 2006-08) arrested for Madhu Koda mining scam and a related disproportionate assets case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.
2. Shibu Soren (Chief Minister of Jharkhand 2005, 2008-09, 2009-10) found guilty by a District Court in a twelve-year-old case involving the kidnapping and murder of his former personal secretary Shashinath Jha; later acquitted by Delhi High Court.
3. Om Prakash Chautala (Chief Minister of Haryana 1989, 1990, 1990-91, 1999-2005) convicted in a scam concerning illegal recruitment of school teachers.
4. Lalu Prasad Yadav (Chief Minister of Bihar 1990-95, 1995-97) convicted in the famous Fodder Scam.
5. B. S. Yeddyurappa (Chief Minister of Karnataka 2007, 2008-11) arrested for several corruption cases, related to the mining scam.
6. Charan Singh (Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh 1967-68, 1970) jailed by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, when she jailed all her political rivals.
On May 11, 2015 the Karnataka High Court acquitted all four accused and Jayalalithaa resumed office as Chief Minister on May 23, 2015. She was subsequently re-elected from Dr. Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency of North Chennai in a by-election held on 27 June 2015. However, the Congress government in Karnataka filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in Delhi against her acquittal.
On February 14, 2017 after completion of hearings in June, 2016 the Supreme Court Division Bench of Justices PC Ghose and Amitava Roy found Sasikala and others Guilty and restored Trial Court Verdict delivered in 2014.
Apparently the acting Governor Vidyasagar Rao was wilfully delaying the appointment of Sasikala as Chief Minister because of the impending Supreme Court judgement. Had he not waited, Sasikala would have been appointed as Chief Minister making her eligible for many of privileges in prison!
On February 18 Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami won the confidence vote by a razor thin majority of 5 votes in the Assembly. At the Assembly elections held in May 2016, the AIADMK won 134 out of 227 seats it contested. This is a reduction of 16 seats compared to 2011 election results. Though the confidence vote was won, it has raised questions regarding the stability of the AIADMK in the Assembly. Just 5 members defecting to AIADMK faction led by O.S.Paneerselvam, the government may fall precipitating fresh elections. It is this fear that if the government is toppled they will have to face the hustings that is holding the122 members to stick together.
In future, the AIADMK has to face elections minus Jayalalithaa Amma its charismatic and popular leader. Sasikala and her family are perceived by a section of the electorate as usurpers of the throne. After Jayalalithaa’s death the Sasikala’s close family members are back in Poes Garden in full force. Within hours of her conviction, Sasikala appointed TTV Dinakaran, her nephew, as the deputy general secretary of AIADMK which post wields enormous political power. And Dinakaran is one of Sasikala’s family member expelled from the party in 2011 and kept out of bounds of Poes Garden. Not only Dinakaran, Sasikala’s other family members too have taken firm roots in Poes Garden now and that includes Dr.Venkadesh another nephew of Sasikala.
Panneerselvam, finance minister in Jayalalithaa cabinet and three-time chief minister has lost his bid for Chief Minister to Palaniswamy an administrative novice. When Jayalalithaa was alive, she gave no indication as to who will succeed in case she dies. She never even hinted that she wanted her close aid Sasikala to step into her shoes after she was gone. At no point, was a party or a government post given to Sasikala by Jayalalithaa. Sasikala never contested any elections. This has strengthened the impression that Sasikala has grabbed what was not meant for her – first Jayalaithaa’s party and now her government.
However, it is too early to dismiss Sasikala merely as a housekeeper for Jayalalithaa for the last 33 years. Even though Sasikala has not held a party post before, or any experience as a legislator, she is no Rabri Devi. Those who know her, praise her understanding of politics, even though under Jayalalithaa, it was confined to playing the role of a backroom operator. Many MLAs owe their post to Sasikala who nominated them in the first place.
In 2011, Sasikala and her family were thrown out of Poes Garden, bag and baggage, because Jayalalithaa suspected they were hatching a conspiracy to topple her from power. Sasikala was taken back 4 months later after she wrote a teary-eyed letter in which she wrote: “Only after coming out of Poes Garden, I became aware of the machinations of my relatives who have misused my proximity and brought disrepute to Akka (elder sister) and the party. I have no role whatsoever in that. Hereafter, any relative, whosoever it might be, who had conspired against Akka, will remain a persona non grata for me as well.” Sasikala was taken back 4 months later after she wrote a teary-eyed letter in which she wrote: “Only after coming out of Poes Garden, I became aware of the machinations of my relatives who have misused my proximity and brought disrepute to Akka (elder sister) and the party. I have no role whatsoever in that. Hereafter, any relative, whosoever it might be, who had conspired against Akka, will remain a persona non grata for me as well.”
It took eight minutes for two Supreme Court Justices to announce the decision that abruptly cut short the political career of VK Sasikala, a long-time close aid of Jayaram Jayalalithaa. The Justices concurred when they held Ms Sasikala guilty of corruption and decided that she has to go to back to jail to serve a four-year sentence. “We have expressed deep concern about escalating menace of corruption in the society,” said the Justices in their 570-page order. Ms Sasikala, who was hoping to become Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu surrendered immediately to the prison authorities in Bangalore. She also has to pay a Rs. 10 crores fine.
“You can understand too much of fatty judgement, we have taken the burden on us…we will read out the conclusion,” said Justice Pinaki Chandra Bose. The second Justice Amitava Roy, said, “We are setting aside the High court judgement and restoring the trial court judgement in full. Since Jayalalithaa has expired, the case against A1 (Jayalalithaa) is abated. All convicted must surrender forthwith.” The verdict came after nearly 15 months of hearing before Supreme Court beginning from November 23, 2015.
It was Judge Michael Cunha of the Special Court in Karnataka who found Jayalalithaa guilty of holding disproportionate assets through corruption. He handed a 4 year jail sentence and slapped a fine of Rs 100 crores for Jayalalithaa and 4 year prison and Rs.10 crores each for Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran.
Ms Sasikala has been found guilty, along with Ms Jayalalithaa, of collecting a fortune beyond their known sources of income between 1991 and 1996. The Justices cancelled the acquittal order and restored the Bangalore Special court’s conviction. Sasikala cannot contest for six years after her four-year sentence. So her political career is erased for the next ten years. Not just Sasikala, Supreme Court verdict means Jayalalithaa’s image is dented and her sorely diminished legacy now tainted. The case against Jayalalithaa wounded through 3 courts, 14 judges, unspecified number of state prosecutors and countless postponements over 21 long years. The corruption case attracted attention through out the length and breath of India.
Jayalalithaa must have spent a fortune for retaining expensive lawyers to defend her in courts. Ram Jethmalani who appeared for Jayalalithaa in the Supreme Court reported charges between 8 -10 lakhs for a single appearance.
“Justice has been done. Judgement shows how strong and independent is our judiciary,” former advocate general BV Acharya told the press. He is the Special Public Prosecutor who appeared for state of Karnataka and argued the appeal in the Supreme Court. The opulent wedding hosted by Jayalalithaa in July, 1995 for her then-foster son VN Sudhakaran, where Jayalalitha and Sasikala were decked up in red and gold, as if they were modelling for a jewellery store, turned out to be her undoing. According to prosecution Rs 6.45 crore was spent by Jayalalithaa for the lavish wedding.
Contrary to public perception that Jayalalithaa is honest and lily white in her personal life and it is the Mannarkudi mafia led by Sasikala which lured Jayalalithaa to amass wealth disproportionate to her income, the Supreme Court Justices said “Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden Home Was Hub Of Conspiracy.” “…. The facts and circumstances proved in evidence undoubtedly point out that A2 to A4 were accommodated in the house of A1 pursuant to the criminal conspiracy hatched by them to hold the assets of A1.”
Here are some highlights from the judgement delivered by the two Justices.
The Justices while upholding trial court’s valuation of assets of the convicts during the said period of 1991-1996, noted that besides jewellery and wrist watches, they also owned vehicles included a Maruti car, a Hindustan Motor’s Contessa, vans and jeeps worth almost Rs 1.30 crores and over 400 kg silver worth Rs 20.8 lakhs. The trial court, however, did not consider the prosecution’s claim that they possessed sarees and footwear worth Rs 92.4 lakhs and Rs 2 lakhs respectively.
Putting its seal of approval on the computation of assets done by the special trial court, it said the convicts, who resided at Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence in Chennai, collectively possessed immovable properties worth Rs 20.07 crores and newly constructed buildings worth Rs 22.53 crores.
It noted that the value of the assets held by them before the check period was assessed at Rs 2.01 crores while the remaining was acquired over 5-6 years. The cash in the bank accounts of the convicts was valued at Rs 97.47 lakhs while fixed deposits and shares in their names were worth Rs 3.42 crores.
Both the movable and immovable assets in the name of Jayalalithaa are likely to be auctioned to recoup the Rs.100 crores fine imposed by the special court and reinstated by the Apex court. In addition to her known assets, the assets confiscated and kept in the Karnataka treasury includes 21.28kg of gold jewellery worth Rs 3.5 crores, 1,250kg of silver articles worth Rs 3.12 crores, diamonds worth Rs 2 crores and a silver sword will go under the hammer.
The Apex court had in its 570-page judgement held that Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and her two relatives had entered into a conspiracy and the late Chief Minister, who was a public servant at the relevant time, had come to possess assets disproportionate to the known sources of her income during the check period.
“We have analysed the evidence adduced by the parties and we come to the conclusion that A1 to A4 (all the accused) have entered into a conspiracy and in furtherance of the same, A1 (Jayalalithaa) who was a public servant at the relevant time had come into possession of assets disproportionate to the known sources of her income during the check period and had got the same dispersed in the names of A2 to A4 and the firms and companies involved to hold these on her behalf with a masked front,” the bench had said. It is a typical case of sow in the morning and reaps in the evening!
The TN ship of state is likely to dive into turbulent waters, unless the leaders of the fractured AIADMK bury their hatchet. A 5 vote majority in the Assembly is very slim and if some members decide to jump ship the government will fall. If that happens with Sasikala behind bars, there is no leader even remotely close to Jayalalithaa to face the hustling in the near future. In this context, the DMK under Stalin is smelling victory at the next elections. However, it is difficult to fathom the minds of TN voters, used to freebies, free buriyani, free quarter and cash, which way they will cast their votes.
Jayalalithaa Amma will remain an eternal enigma as to why she went on a buying spree to acquire lands, estates, mansions and lived like a queen when she had no family, no children, and no relatives to inherit her legacy! In fact, her untimely death is a blessing in disguise; it spared her the ignominy of spending four years in jail.
Jayalalithaa’s prosecution and conviction for corruption proves the age old adage what you sow in the morning you reap in the evening. It confirms the message that those who wield power will be punished if they deviate from righteous principles.