Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The verdict that scripted TN’s political future: How the DA case judgment played out in court

As Justices Pinaki Chandra Bose and Amitava Roy of the Supreme Court read out their verdict in the high-profile Disproportionate Assets case, not only were they ruling on the political future of VK Sasikala, but also the legacy of J Jayalalithaa.
As Tamil Nadu now turns its attention to how Sasikala and O Panneerselvam will outdo each other in the ongoing political crisis, let's remember that the Supreme Court today effectively also held Jayalalithaa guilty of corruption, and holding disproportionate assets.
While pronouncing the verdict today, Justice PC Ghose said that while the trial court order against A2, A3 and A4 (Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran) is restored - effectively holding them guilty and imposing the Rs 10 crore fine on them - he stated that the case against Jayalalithaa had 'abated'.
Since Jayalalithaa is dead, she cannot be declared a convict, but by abating the case against her and holding the others guilty, the court has effectively pronounced her guilty. Legal experts further point out that if not for her complicity in the corruption, there could not have been a 'conspiracy' by the other three accused for which they have been convicted.
The exact details of what happens to the Rs 100 crore fine imposed on her by the trial court remains to be seen, as the full order of the court has not been made public yet.
That Jayalalithaa has been pronounced guilty deals a body blow to her legacy and to the AIADMK. Known to have been touchy about her image throughout her political life, she took every effort to maintain that she was not corrupt, and only a victim of the DMK's political conspiracy.
But after her death, the Supreme Court has effected a finality to her image: She was a corrupt Chief Minister.
This verdict could also impact the politics of the AIADMK. With the party standing on the foundation of the legacy of Jayalalithaa, one can expect political opponents to repeatedly point out that she was indeed guilty.
But in her guilt, Sasikala also finds a leader who she can lay the blame on. It is very likely that she will now point out that all she did was for Jayalalithaa, and that both of them are victims of DMK's politicking.

The mood at Court Hall No 6 was a mixture of excitement, dread and nervous anticipation. With the judgment in the Disproportionate Assets case expected to be delivered by Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amitava Roy at 10.30am, the court hall was already packed by 10am.
More than a hundred lawyers were in attendance in the case. In the front sat Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, who is one of the petitioners in the case.
A number of lawyers for the DMK were also present, so were several journalists. The AIADMK had very few of its supporters in the courtroom.
As 10.30am passed, the intensity of the anticipation increased, until Justices Ghose and Roy walked into the courtroom five minutes later.
The two judges spent a few seconds first conferring with each other, as the rest of the court waited with bated breath.
Justice Ghose then picked up the judgement and flipped through it to the final orders. Looking up at the waiting faces, he said, “As you can see it’s a fatty judgment.”
Justice Roy chipped in, adding, “I would say that this is a very well-considered judgment.”
Finally, putting an end to the suspense, Justice Ghose read, “We set aside the judgment of the Karnataka HC, and uphold the judgement of the trial court. Accused A2-A4 are found guilty and the trial court’s order is restored. They have to surrender before the Bengaluru trial court immediately.”
Speaking of accused A1, the late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, he said that the case against her has abated.
This means that the court has set the case against her aside, following her death. But legal experts point out that she remains guilty, as, without her guilt, accused A2-A4 – Sasikala, her nephew and Jayalalithaa’s foster son Sudhakaran, and Sasikala’s sister-in-law Ilavarasi – cannot be held guilty of conspiracy.
What remains to be seen from the judgment that is still awaited is how the fines imposed on the disproportionate assets will be recovered. In Jayalalithaa’s case, the lower court had imposed a fine of Rs 100 crore on the late CM in its 2014 order.

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