Bengaluru, India (BBN)-The Karnataka high court on Monday acquitted AIADMK supremo and former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa in a corruption case, clearing the decks for her return to the state’s top job.
Jayalalithaa had appealed against her conviction in the Rs 66.64-crore disproportionate assets case by a Bengaluru trial court, which had sentenced her to 4 years in jail and slapped a fine of Rs 100 crore, reports The Hindustan Times.
The AIADMK chief, along with aides N Sasikala, VN Sudhakaran and J Elasvarasi, was held guilty of holding unaccounted for income during her tenure as chief minister from 1991-96 by the trial court in September last year.
Her close aide Sasikala and Sasikala’s relatives Sudhakaran and Elavarasi were fined Rs 10 crore each. The lower court had convicted them after a trial lasting 18 long years.
Along with Jayalalithaa, all the three were also acquitted by the high court.
“The case against Jayalalithaa could not be proved so she has been let off,” said her lawyer B Kumar.
“Now, there is no restriction on Jayalalithaa to become the CM,” added Kumar.
Special public prosecutor BV Acharya, however, said that the prosecution was denied an opportunity for oral arguments.
“I feel this is a case where the prosecution has been denied adequate opportunity to present their case,” Acharya told news agency ANI.
There is consensus across party lines in the state that after her acquittal, Jayalalithaa will now be back with a bang.
Speculations are also rife that Jayalalithaa could go for snap polls riding on the strength of the verdict in her favour that smashes the corruption plank raised against her by opposition parties.
“It will be a big blow to all opposition parties,” said C Lakshmanan, a professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies.
“It will be a nightmare for all of them. The AIADMK might have a cakewalk in the 2016 elections. The BJP may not be able to even imagine a hold in Tamil Nadu in their lifetime unless they completely surrender to Amma,” he said.
The AIADMK will now want their Amma back in the chief minister’s seat as soon as possible.
Rabi Bernard, an AIADMK Rajya Sabha MP and a party spokesperson, said Jayalalithaa will become the chief minister.
“There are only 9 to 10 months to go for elections. The state will go into election mode. Madam will take charge of all election and campaign activities,” said Bernard.
The BJP, despite having little presence in the state was confident that it will emerge as an alternative, was watching closely said the judgement will be a game changer.
“It would boost the morale of the AIADMK cadres and the public,” said H Raja, a BJP national secretary.
“She enjoyed public support when she was chief minister. That is why this judgement will be a watershed judgement in Tamil Nadu
Thousands of AIADMK workers erupted in joy as word about Jayalalithaa’s acquittal came in from Bengaluru.
Workers and supporters, who had congregated at Poes Gardens residence since morning, burst fire crackers and distributed sweets seconds after justice CR Kumaraswamy announced the verdict acquitting Jayalalithaa and her three aides in the corruption case and absolved her of all charges.
Tamil Nadu chief minister O Panneerselvam arrived to meet his party leader at her residence, where many top ministers and party leaders had already congregated since early morning.
“All our prayers have been answered,2 shouted Shihan Hussaini, a Karate coach who had nailed himself to a cross to pray for the AIADMK leader’s acquittal, outside her residence.
“I am not from AIADMK but I am supporting Amma and the good work done by her as a common man. Who does not have cases registered against them? Doesn’t Rahul have a case against him and are not Karunanidhi or Raja mired cases against them,” he questioned.
Party functionaries too expressed happiness and said they had faith in the judiciary.
“The honourable judge has given the best order,” said AIADMK spokesperson CR Saraswati.
“For us, today is the Mothers Day,” added Saraswati.
Another AIADMK spokesperson Avadi Kumar said, “We are very happy.”
An overjoyed AIADMK party functionary said she will now become the chief minister and will remain one for a long time to come.
The outcome was as anticipated, said former finance minister and senior AIADMK leader C Ponnaian.
“It was a clear case of political vendetta and was to fail eventually. And this is what has happened. We have immense faith in judiciary,” said the AIADMK leader reflecting the sentiments of thousands of party workers across the state.
With her acquittal in the disproportionate assets case, Jayalalithaa has come out clean in all the 13 cases against her. In September 2001, Jayalalithaa faced a two-year conviction in a corruption case and had to step down after Supreme Court set aside her appointment as CM.
She installed O Panneerselvam, a senior minister in her council, as the chief minister till March 2002 after she was acquitted of the charges by the Madras high court. Jayalalithaa could not also contest assembly elections owing to disqualification and had to contest a by-election later.