Journalist | Writer | Analyst
‘The king rules the world and justice rules the king’ – Tirukkural
By finding Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa guilty of corruption and sending her to prison for four years, a special court in Bangalore has created a political vacuum in Tamil Nadu that will not be quickly or easily filled.
The conviction means Jayalalithaa must immediately resign as Chief Minister and as Member of the Legislative Assembly. She will appeal her conviction, no doubt, and perhaps even get a stay on her sentence. But so long as the courts do not stay the conviction itself – as was the case with the former BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu and former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani – Jayalalithaa will be disqualified from holding any elected office for a period of at least 10 years i.e. for the course of her four year prison term and an additional period of six years.
The court’s decision ought to send a powerful message to other Indian politicians who have clearly amassed assets – property, land, bank balances, and business interests – well beyond their known sources of income. In reality, most political leaders understand that prosecutions like that of Jayalalithaa are the exception and not the rule in India. The 18-year-old case against her was the product of sharp political rivalry with Karunanidhi, who used the time he was in power as Chief Minister to gather the required evidence. If at all there is a lesson for other politicians then, it is that one must keep one’s enmity with political rivals within certain bounds. Trade charges of corruption by all means but don’t take matters beyond the court of politics.
Since Jayalalithaa is the unquestioned, singular power centre in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), her choice of successor need not detain us unduly. Like Narendra Modi, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and other personality-centred leaders, Jayalalithaa too doesn’t believe in deputies. She doesn’t do No. 2s or 3s or 4s.
In 2001, when she had to resign as Chief Minister following a direction from the Supreme Court in another case, she chose O. Panneerselvam as her designated seat-warmer. This time around, she may pick him again or grace some other individual with what can only be considered a ceremonial job. In Chennai, there is speculation that trusted aide Sheela Balakrishnan, a former Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu, may make the grade.
What is certain, of course, is that the role of ‘Amma’ as leader and political totem for the AIADMK and its government will not diminish. As CM, she was not always very visible, even if pictorial, edible, potable and medicinal reminders of her authority were everywhere.
If anything, one can now safely expect the business of Amma portraiture and nomenclature to reach new heights as the narrative of ‘political vendetta’ is used to counter the taint of Saturday’s conviction.
Much will depend on the ease with which an imprisoned supremo is able to communicate with her party at all levels. If she serves her sentence in Tamil Nadu, or is released on bail pending appeal, this will pose no particular difficulty. But if she is held in Karnataka, where the trial court is located, acting the role of a non-playing captain may not be that easy.
In political terms, more interesting than the choice Jayalalithaa makes among her loyalists is the question of how other political forces in Tamil Nadu will plan their next move.
Her principal political rival, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, has been beset with corruption charges as well as factional squabbles in the very household of its leader, M. Karunanidhi. The DMK was vanquished in the assembly elections of 2011 and received a total drubbing in the recently held Lok Sabha elections, where it failed to win a single seat. Jayalalithaa’s conviction will no doubt enthuse the party’s leadership and cadre but the assembly elections are still two years away and there are no major local level polls in between to prove their worth.
A lot of water has flowed down the Cauvery since the 2011 elections when the AIADMK and its allies routed the DMK-led front. The alliances which the AIADMK and DMK led in 2011 have long since broken down. Jayalalithaa had the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam of Vijaykant on her side, as well as the Left parties. Karunanidhi’s allies then included the MDMK of Vaiko and the Pattali Makkal Katchi of P. Ramadoss. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, both the AIADMK and the DMK fought on their own while the DMDK, MDMK and PMK joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
While Karunanidhi is known to be making overtures towards his erstwhile allies in the state, chances are that these smaller parties will continue to hitch their chariot to the BJP in the hope that the time is right for the emergence of a third force in the state.
For the moment, national attention is bound to be focused on the law and order situation in the state. Already there are reports of clashes between AIADMK and DMK cadres. Jayalalithaa ought to realize that if this violence gets out of hand, her rivals are bound to demand the imposition of President’s Rule, and perhaps even early elections. That is the only way to bring forward her political day of reckoning and she would be foolish to allow that to happen.