NEW DELHI: VK Sasikala was today found guilty of corruption by the Supreme Court and has been sentenced to four years in prison. This ends her high-velocity and divisive bid to be Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu – she is now barred from contesting an election for the next ten years. At 10:30 am today, two judges of the Supreme Court delivered their ruling separately, but agreed that Ms Sasikala had, in the early 90s, accumulated an illicit fortune with Ms Jayalalithaa, the five-term Chief Minister she lived with, and who died in December . By detailing “incriminating evidence” against her, the judgement rips a huge hole through the legacy of Ms Jayalalithaa, beloved Amma (mother) to lakhs of supporters who accorded her deity-like status and treated her with religious fervor. The case was premised on the fact that during her first term, Ms Jayalalithaa misused her office to accrue 60 crores of assets in a shared fortune with Ms Sasikala and her relatives, two of whom have also been convicted today.
In 2014, both women were jailed in Bengaluru, where the case was first tried. After being acquitted by the highest court in Karnataka, Ms Jayalalithaa returned to office. The Karnataka government had asked the Supreme Court to over-rule that decision. Ms Sasikala, her brother’s wife, Ilavarasi, and nephew VN Sudhakaran have also been fined 10 crores each. Sources said Ms Sasikala, 61, is unlikely to surrender or make herself available today for imprisonment because she has not yet received a copy of the lengthy court verdict.
As the verdict was delivered, Ms Sasikala was at a resort on the outskirts of Chennai, where about 120 legislators from her party, the ruling AIADMK, have been stationed for a week to prevent them from being poached by rival O Panneerselvam. He took over as Chief Minister after the death of Ms Jayalalithaa, who was his mentor. Then, last Tuesday, OPS, as he is known, refused party orders to facilitate Ms Sasikala’s promotion to the state’s top job. Instead, like her, he petitioned Governor C Vidyasagar Rao for the right to take a trust vote in the legislature to prove he is the rightful head of government.
To win, 117 votes are needed. The AIADMK has 134 members.
After receiving news of the verdict, Ms Sasikala presided at the luxury resort over a meeting of about 120 legislators who are backing her. The gathering chose E Palanisamy, a Sasikala loyalist, as its new leader and expelled OPS. Mr Palanisamy is meeting now with the Governor to request for the opportunity to prove his majority.
Mr Panneerselvam now has 11 state lawmakers and 12 parliamentarians backing him. They assert that because he was chosen twice by Amma to stand-in for her as Chief Minister when she was forced to take a breather on corruption charges, he was her intended replacement. He has repeatedly spoken of his mission to remain Chief Minister as one guided by the “spirit of Amma.”
Ms Sasikala has never contested any election – not even one within her party – and her clamour for Chief Minister had driven public outrage against her proposed promotion, with social media campaigns and celebrities deriding her for trying to use sheer force – a reference again to the sequestering of MLAs – to fulfil her political ambition.