The Supreme Court on Tuesday derailed AIADMK General Secrtary V.K. Sasikala’s political career even before take-off by upholding her conviction for corruption along with two relatives and the late J. Jayalalitha. But the ugly war for power in Tamil Nadu continued.
By evening, Public Works, Highways and Minor Ports Minister E. Palanisamy — elected the new AIADMK legislature party leader in place of Sasikala — met Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao and staked claim to form a new government.
Palanisamy’s aides said the Sasikala faction enjoyed the support of the overwhelming majority among AIADMK’s 135 MLAs. Only nine MLAs were said to be supporting acting Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam.
Later, AIADMK leaders V. Maitreyan and P.H. Pandian also met Rao on behalf of Panneerselvam.
The day began with the Supreme Court restoring the earlier conviction of Sasikala, a long-time confidante of Jayalalithaa, and her two relatives — Elavarasi, the widow of Sasikala’s elder brother, and V.N. Sudhakaran, a nephew who at one point was also the former Chief Minister’s foster-son.
Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amitava Roy set aside a Karnataka High Court order acquitting the three and Jayalalithaa, who died on December 5.
They denounced Jayalalithaa for amassing assets disproportionate to her income which she dispersed among the others.
The magnitude of the “nefarious gains” were “startling”, Justice Roy said.
The four, Jayalalithaa included, were convicted for amassing assets disproportionate to known sources of income to the tune of Rs 66.65 crore when the former Chief Minister ruled Tamil Nadu in 1991-96.
The apex court upheld that Sasikala cannot contest elections for 10 years, including the four years she will be jailed. She was fined Rs 10 crore.
The ruling also means that no memorial can be built for Jayalalithaa – the actress-turned-AIADMK icon — and her photographs must be taken off from all government offices.
Sasikala and her relatives were told to surrender immediately to the trial court, which convicted them in September 2014. Sasikala, however, remained with her MLAs at the resort. She is expected to file a review petition.
Hours after the ruling, a fuming Sasikala axed Panneerselvam and 19 other leaders from the AIADMK.
They included School Education Minister K. Pandiarajan and former ministers C. Ponnaiyan, P.H. Pandian, Natham R. Viswanathan, K.P. Munusamy and P. Mohan. But the MLAs and MPs backing Panneerselvam were spared.
The MLAs supporting Sasikala, who had wanted to become the Chief Minister, and holed up at a resort near Chennai, also elected Palanisamy as their new legislature party leader.
The Supreme Court ruling set off celebrations by Panneerselvam supporters who burst firecrackers and danced outside his residence — though the apex court bracketed Jayalalithaa with Sasikala.
In a bid to win over the MLAs still with Sasikala, Panneerselvam called the ruling “good news”, said “Amma” was still guiding the AIADMK and urged all legislators to unite “to resolve the crisis”.
The opposition hailed the court ruling.
DMK leader M.K. Stalin said: “Justice has been restored. Now the Governor should take steps to ensure a stable government in Tamil Nadu.”
Amid reports that Panneerselvam supporters may reach the resort where pro-Sasikala MLAs are putting up, security was tightened at the venue.
The infighting in the AIADMK erupted after Jayalalithaa passed away and Sasikala was elected the ruling party’s General Secretary on February 5.
She was then chosen the leader of the AIADMK legislature party, paving the way for her to become the Chief Minister.
That is when Panneerselvam, who had been twice acting Chief Minister earlier, revolted and alleged that he was forced by Sasikala to resign. As of now, most MLAs are with Sasikala but many MPs have switched loyalty.