VK Sasikala, expelled AIADMK leader and a close aide of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, has been released after spending four years in a Bengaluru jail in a corruption case. She will, however, remain in a hospital in the city as she is being treated for Covid. She will also continue to get protection from Karnataka Police as long as she remains in the state.
The 66-year-old was formally released from the central jail in Bengaluru's Parappana Agrahara after jail officials wearing PPE kits completed the formalities at the hospital. She will continue to be at Victoria Hospital for four to five days more, the hospital's medical superintendent said. A huge crowd of her supporters lined up outside Victoria Hospital, raising slogans in her favour and distributed sweets in celebration.
Shortly before her release, hospital authoriites said she is stable, adding that she is "conscious, alert and well oriented".
"The decision for her to continue treatment in Victoria Hospital has been taken by her and her family members," the hospital said in a health bulletin.
According to Karnataka's Covid protocols, Covid patients can be discharged 10 days after testing if they are asymptomatic. They also need to have been without the need for oxygen for three days. Sasikala is currently receiving some oxygen support.
She had been rushed to the government's Bowring Hospital last week, on January 20, after falling ill and had been transferred to Victoria Hospital the following day.
The ex-AIADMK leader's release comes on a day when the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami inaugurated a Rs. 79 crore memorial for Jayalalithaa along Chennai's Marina Beach.
Sasikala was sentenced to four years in prison in 2017 in the Rs. 66 crore disproportionate assets case in which Jayalalithaa was the prime accused. Her sister-in-law J Ilavarasi and Jayalalithaa's foster son VN Sudhakaran were also convicted in the case.
Her time in the Bengaluru jail also saw allegation of her being given special treatment at the central jail where she was lodged.
Her release comes just months before the assembly election in Tamil Nadu. She tested positive for coronavirus just six days before the date of her release.
"We are all happy that our beloved Chinamma has been released. I want to tell you this, that is why I have come here. Now, we will discuss with doctors when she will be discharged. After the advice of doctors only, we will take a decision. Today, I don't want to talk politics. After doctors' advice, we will decide when to take her to Tamil Nadu," said TTV Dhinakaran, Sasikala's nephew and Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary, who went to Bengaluru on learning about her illness.
At the height of her power Sasikala was a hugely influential force within the AIADMK and, if she is able to rediscover even some of that influence, she could emerge a key player in the election.
However, Mr Palaniswami has ruled out talk of Sasikala's re-entry into the ruling AIADMK, which is reportedly under pressure from its ally the BJP.