Chennai: Within minutes of its top leader being convicted for corruption, Tamil Nadu's ruling party, the AIADMK, said that like her mentor and former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, VK Sasikala will bear her ordeal relying on "Dharma" for long-term justice. "Sasikala has always taken Jayalalithaa's burden on her; she has done it again," the party tweeted, adding "Dharma will prevail." The statement seeks to reinforce the long and close relationship between the AIADMK's authoritarian and charismatic leader who died in December, and her live-in aide, who tried to replace her in office.
- VK Sasikala found guilty of corruption, given 4 years in jail
- Supreme Court's verdict indirectly implicates J Jayalalithaa
- Sasikala always shared Jayalalithaa's ordeals, says their party
Ms Sasikala has been sentenced by the Supreme Court today to four years in prison. The verdict - delivered in a 5-minute reading by two Supreme Court judges - immediately puts a hard stop to her drive to become Chief Minister, a divisive initiative which has led to a break in her party. The AIADMK has 134 legislators in Tamil Nadu. Of them, as many as 125 had been corralled by Ms Sasikala, whose authority is derived from her unquestionable proximity to Ms Jayalalithaa. The remaining have teamed with O Panneerselvam, who is 66, and was named Chief Minister when Ms Jayalalithaa died two months ago.
Twice earlier, he had replaced the politician, upon her directions, when she was forced to step down to confront corruption charges. So his promotion after her death seemed in keeping with the natural order of things for the AIADMK. But earlier this month, it decided that Ms Sasikala, already given Ms Jayalalithaa's post of General Secretary, would also step up as head of state. For two days, Mr Panneerselvam held his peace. Then, he emerged at Ms Jayalalithaa's grave to announce that he would, in fact, not surrender his job as instructed.
Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, who alone steers what happens next, has so far refused to make a move. Sources indicated he was waiting for the Supreme Court's verdict because if Ms Sasikala were to be convicted, she would be ineligible to hold any public office. His nearly week-long contemplation of the situation allowed Mr Panneerselvam ,who started out as a party of one, to collate more support. His team would be far heftier, he has alleged, if MsSsasikala were not holding the majority of AIADMK lawmakers in the Golden Bay Resort on the outskirts of Chennai, with limited access to outsiders. Two of the MLAs who have "escaped"- one cited a bathroom break to make a run for it while legislators were being bused to the hotel, the other claims he used a T-shirt and shorts as "disguise" to sneak out of the camp - say that others are keen to switch to Mr Panneerselvam's faction.
The Governor must now urgently call a session of all lawmakers where they will have to indicate who they support, said constitutional experts after the Supreme Court's verdict. Ms Sasikala is now out of the picture-so her petition to take a trust vote is cancelled. The AIADMK is likely to elect a new leader - one possibly nominated by her - and file a fresh claim with the Governor asking for the new in-charge to be granted the opportunity to prove a majority in the assembly. Before the judgement, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had advised the Governor that because they were competing claims from within the same party for Chief Minister, he should order a composite floor test - which means that all legislators would have to sign their names and vote for either Ms Sasikala or Mr Panneerselvam.