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TUESDAY, MAY 12, 2015

Just months after being written off following her conviction by a trial court, amidst talk of a rejuvenated
opposition, former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has risen like a phoenix following her acquittal

Trial, errors and judgment

Sanjay Hegde

oney is not important,

access to it and misuse
of it is, said Bharatiya
Janata Party leader and
Jayalalithaas foe-turned-friend-turnedfoe, Subramanian Swamy, in his written
submissions to the Karnataka High Court.
This was with regard to the former Tamil
Nadu Chief Ministers appeal against conviction for possession of assets disproportionate to her income. The 919-page
judgment of the Karnataka High Court
tested precisely this proposition.
Ms. Jayalalithaas conviction by the Special Court, under Section 13 (1) (e) of the
Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, had all
the elements of a potboiler a popular
mother figure, an old accusation from an
impetuous past, and a judgment that could
be delayed no longer but with even more
twists and turns than a movie script.
In 1995, when Ms. Jayalalithaa attended
the lavish wedding of her now disowned
foster son V.N. Sudhakaran, she and her
other co-accused in the case, Sasikala,
would have hardly envisioned what would
follow. Public revulsion at her unaccountable ostentation turned into electoral fury
in 1996. Ms. Jayalalithaa lost power and
was arrested in several corruption cases.
Section 13 (1) (e) of the Prevention of
Corruption Act of 1988 states: A public
servant is said to commit the offence of
criminal misconduct, if he or any person on
his behalf, is in possession or has, at any
time during the period of his office, been in
possession for which the public servant
cannot satisfactorily account, of pecuniary
resources or property disproportionate to
his known sources of income. It further
explains known sources of income as income received from any lawful source and
such receipt has been intimated in accordance with the provisions of any law, rules or
orders for the time being applicable to a
public servant. What this means is that at
any stage, a public servant should be able to
prove that assets owned or controlled by
him or her are attributable to proven, lawful sources.

not be accounted for from her known

sources of income. It was urged that assets
of around Rs. 3 crore in 1991 could not
legitimately metamorphose into Rs. 66
crore in 1996, even after accounting for
inflation in a newly liberalised economy.
Added to the land and property assets
was the mind-boggling figure of 12,000 saris, 28 kg of gold and 800 kg of silver found
in Jayalalithaas Poes Garden residence.
Explaining these against a slender known
income made the case a matter of defendable accounting. An auditor must be a
watchdog and not a bloodhound, ruled the
House of Lords in a gentler century. But
not all the Queens accountants and all the
Queens counsel could, in the Special
Court, legally laugh away the sheer disproportion
From her first arrest on, Ms. Jayalalithaa
has vigorously contested all the cases
against her. Her political fortunes turned
in 2001 when she led her party to victory
despite the pending corruption cases. Her
return to power began to reflect in the
special court in Chennai. Several witnesses
turned hostile, and the prosecutor seemed
to be going through the motions of a trial.
An acquittal for lack of evidence appeared
At this stage, the Dravida Munnettra
VICTORY: Jayalalithaa may play a political role for a long time to
Kazhagams senior-most leader K. Anbazcome, but she will always remain the first incumbent Chief Minister
hagan moved the Supreme Court, saying a
to go to jail. Picture shows her supporters rejoicing after she was
fair trial of the Chief Minister was not
possible in Tamil Nadu. The court agreed
acquitted by the Karnataka High Court. PHOTO: M. PERIASAMY
and transferred the trial to Karnataka. It
assets beyond her house in Poes Garden in ever, when the indulgence was extended to also directed the appointment of a Special
Chennai. Sasikala and her family were ac- complicity with a whole family and tribe, it Public Prosecutor by the Karnataka govcused of possessing property on Ms. Jaya- made a case for the prosecution. The essen- ernment, who would be approved by the
lalithaas behalf.
tial premise of the charge laid before the High Court. An expeditious trial was orA first-term Chief Minister often has no trial court was that it was all for one and dered. One of Karnatakas most respected
On a Re. 1 salary
idea of the job requirements. Associates one for all.
lawyers, B.V. Acharya, was persuaded to
When Ms. Jayalalithaa was Chief Minis- need to be strictly warned that proximity to
Thus, assets of several companies in prosecute, and the case commenced. Howter for the first time, between 1991 and powerful figures cannot turn familiarity in- which Ms. Jayalalithaa, along with Sasikala ever, a whole host of issues was litigated
1996, she took a monthly salary of Re. 1 to a revenue model. But a lonely prima and her relatives, was a personal stakehold- from time to time by one or the other
only. Her career as actor had ended in 1980, donna exalted to an empress may perhaps er, ended up being attributed in the trial accused. Delay is a known defence tactic.
and seemed to yield no great savings or be forgiven for indulging a favourite. How- court judgment to Jayalalithaa. They could The defence team kept up a slew of dilatory

Where loyalty trumps all

Dancing, screaming,
breaking coconuts.
The citizens of
Tamil Nadu connect
with their political
leaders only
as devotees

political commitment is primarily

judged, in political circles, by her steely
resolve to stick to a leader no matter
what he or she is accused of. So what if
critics label their leaders corrupt, authoritarian or power-hungry? None
like our leader, they will vouch, with
unmistakable earnestness.
The radical Dravidian movement is
conceived historically as a peoples
struggle challenging those who enjoy
privilege and power. However, Dravidian politics has over the years centred
around personal icons, their followers
and their loyalty.
Meera Srinivasan
Among the most primary of all feudal
hree more years, screamed Van- sentiments, loyalty tends to widen the
mathi, gesturing emphatically gap between the leader and the masses.
with her fingers and tapping her feet to The leader is put on a high pedestal, and
drum beats outside AIADMK General some followers even turn devotees,
Secretary Jayalalithaas Poes Garden firmly believing that their leader cannot
home on May 11 morning. The news of do any wrong ever.
Even within the party, the expression
the former Chief Minister's acquittal
of loyalty is seen as the only way of
had just arrived.
The Class 10 student said she cant being noticed by the higher rungs of
wait to turn 18 and vote for Amma, the power or by the leader. This can only
best leader. Asked why she supported happen when the democratic space
the leader, the petite teenager replied: within a party is compromised. No
I dont know. That is how it has been. member will dare be a dissenting voice
She is the best, everyone else is a waste! for fear of being interpreted as a traitor
Watching her proudly was her moth- and consequently falling out of favour.
er, a long-time party loyalist. First it The party invariably functions in a
was Thalaivar (MGR), after that it has highly centralised manner, going
been Amma. We will be with them for against the best traditions of democratic politics, with designated ministers
generations to come, she said.
A few metres away, a middle-aged and MLAs shying away from any deciwomans loud, high-pitched rendition sion-making. A democratically elected
of the MGR super-hit number Naalai government comfortably morphs into a
namade (Tomorrow is ours), piercing regime.
This was evidenced in the slow and, in
through the noise of fire crackers, drew
television cameras. Swaying mildly, she some cases, virtually absent governance
kept repeating the line for as long as the in Tamil Nadu after Ms. Jayalalithaas
conviction in September. The inaugucameras hovered around her.
Our prayers have been answered, ration of the Metro Rail a muchsaid a branch secretary of the party awaited addition to Chennais desperfrom Kancheepuram, who did not wish ately wanting public transport system
to be named. It is enough if Ammas was put on hold. Governance in many
name comes in the papers, he said, areas came to a standstill, as senior govplacing a sack of coconuts on the pave- ernment officials admitted in private
ment. I had vowed to break coconuts if conversations.
It is highly unlikely that any of the
the verdict was favourable. I am so resupporters who danced in joy in Monlieved now.
The relief and happiness among the days sweltering heat will ever meet
party cadre manifested itself differently their leader and have a normal, direct
among the thousands gathered in the conversation with her. It will be neararea some responded with happy impossible for the two individuals (cititears, some with dancing, others zen and party leader), supposedly comscreamed slogans and broke coconuts in mitted to the same political cause, to
impromptu prayer rituals. Essentially, engage as equal human beings. The relathe euphoria was a way to demonstrate tionship between a follower and a peoloyalty to their leader. Their loyalty ples representative holding the highest
would have been intact irrespective of post in the State will, at best, be an
the verdict, just that it may have found emotional tie, apparently involving litexpression in sad or violent outbursts, tle reflection on the political choices of
or perhaps even attacks, going by in- the party or its leader.
If there is one tangible critique, it
cidents around the September verdict
that convicted Ms. Jayalalithaa. Even comes in the form of votes from the
people of Tamil Nadu who, for nearly
that would have come out of loyalty.
three decades, have alternated between
Loyal by default
the DMK and the AIADMK, rejecting
Loyalty, in a sense, has been the hall- each party after one term in office.
mark of Tamil Nadu politics. A persons


motions. The ordered speedy trial was

dragged and litigated at the Supreme Court
at every stage. Five different special judges
heard the case over 18 years.

Lost steam
Curiously, after Ms. Jayalalithaa lost
power again in 2006, the prosecution itself
seemed to lack the vigour to pursue the
case. In 2010, ahead of the Assembly polls
of 2011, the case again picked up steam. A
second series of interim motions and legal
manoeuvring ensued. The process also later led to the resignation of Mr. Acharya,
who had brought the case to near fruition.
He was replaced by Mr. Bhavani Singh, who
appeared to command little praise and less
love. Into this background stepped Justice
Michael DCunha as the last trial judge,
with a reputation for
thoroughness and probity. In September 2014,
Jayalalithaa and her associates were convicted.
The trial court held that
most of the assets were to be taken as held
by the accused personally or on her behalf.
Ms. Jayalalithaa appealed immediately,
but hearing on the admission and bail was
delayed. Bail was denied by the High Court,
but the Supreme Court in appeal granted it
after 20 days of incarceration. The Supreme Court also made an expeditious disposal of the appeal a condition of the bail,
thus eliminating any dilatory tactics by the
The hearing of the appeals began again
in January this year and was concluded by
mid-March. An issue then arose about
whether the Special Public Prosecutor
Bhavani Singh had been properly appointed to conduct the appeal. Mr. Anbazhagan
again approached the Supreme Court,
seeking a fresh hearing of the appeal, with
another public prosecutor being specifically authorised. With two judges differing on
the issue, the matter went to a bench of
three other judges, who finally ruled that

Bhavani Singh had been improperly appointed. The court saw no need for a rehearing of the appeal, but allowed all parties to make written submissions, which
the appeals court would consider with the

The judgment
The result of all this is the compendious
High Court judgment exhaustive and
also thoroughly exhausting. The reasoning
can only be discerned from the last 150
pages. Each transaction has been analysed;
each explanation considered and ruled on.
The expenditure on the wedding is not
attributed to Ms. Jayalalithaa alone, since
she was on the grooms side of the event;
the brides side of the
family, including the late
actor Sivaji Ganeshan, are
seen to have contributed
to it. Loans taken by Ms.
Jayalalithaa to acquire
property have also been
considered as reducing
the disproportion in the assets. A detailed
calculation of her income and assets in
tabular form was considered, and the High
Court concluded that the property was acquired from lawful sources. The footwear
and apparel were also not seriously taken
into account, as the prosecution had failed
to segregate them according to their individual users, given that there were four
people in the house. Overall, the High
Court has entertained reasonable doubt
and held that the prosecution case is not
But the story is not over; the appeal to
the Supreme Court remains. Ms. Jayalalithaa may play a political role for a long
time to come, but she will always remain
the first incumbent Chief Minister to go to
jail. That may have been a fitting climax to a
morality play, but Indian politics is not
always about morality.
(Sanjay Hegde is a senior advocate of the
Supreme Court .)

Ammas apogee moment

Dravidian politics was founded on the bedrock of rationalism but the religiosity of recent
times points to a new watershed
A.R. Venkatachalapathy

istory, the Marxist clich goes, repeats itself twice usually as a tragedy and then as a farce. But sometimes it
repeats itself as a bigger tragedy. As the
implications of the Karnataka High
Courts blanket acquittal of former Tamil
Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa are
thrashed threadbare, some crucial cultural questions remain to be explored.
The months following the Special
Courts verdict in Parappana Agrahara in
September 2014 and leading up to the
denouement in the Karnataka High
Court on May 11 were marked by unprecedented public displays of prayer and devotion. Ardent All India Anna Dravida
Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party
cadres sought divine intervention in favour of Amma. Sceptics termed these as
sycophancy orchestrated by motivated
party leaders. But the wide popular support and sympathy among the plebeian
classes, especially among the women, was
hard to miss. My leader, right or wrong
seemed to be the guiding principle. Corruption, disproportionate assets, the
mother of all weddings all seemed to
count for little in the popular mind.
Three decades ago, in late 1984, history
had unfolded with the same melodramatic overtones. Citizens will not forget the
devout zeitgeist when Chief Minister
M.G. Ramachandran (MGR), Ms. Jayalalithaas mentor, lay ailing in Brooklyn
Hospital, New York. Across temples and
churches and other places of worship,
prayers were conducted. A tearful Sowcar
Janaki lip-syncing to Andavane un pathangalai naan kanneeril neerattuvaen
(O lord, let me bathe your feet in tears)
from the MGR-starrer Oli Vilakku prefaced film screenings across cinema halls
in the State. Despite the mocking by an
avowedly rationalistic opposition party,
the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the
spontaneity and fervour marking these
prayers cannot be discounted.

Great and little traditions

Cultural historians will wonder if this
time around it has been played out as a
bigger tragedy. As expected in Tamil political culture one could dispute the
numbers there have been suicides
committed in grief. But the most striking
aspect of the prayers and rituals conducted over the last several months is not only
the humongous scale but also its variety.
In a somewhat dated formulation, cultural anthropologists have discussed religion and culture in terms of a great
tradition and little tradition. If, in the
Indian context, the Sanskrit-centred
Vedic temple culture could be termed the
great tradition, popular religiosity with
its plethora of vernacular rituals and local practices is the little tradition.

RITUALISM: Prayers for Jayalalithaas acquittal have dominated many State-administered temples over
the last six months. Picture shows AIADMK MLA Omsakthi Sekar offering prayers along with party
cadres before the announcement of the verdict. PHOTO: M.SAMRAJ

The marriage of high

religion and popular
religiosity in the cause of
politics has serious
implications for
democratic politics

als including annadaanam (free feeding

of the poor), vilakku pujai (lamp ritual)
and yagnas have been organised with
great gusto by local party leaders. There
was also a ritual involving temple elephants. Scale apart, there might be little
to comment on these demonstrations of
piety and prayer.
What is striking is the parallel performance of popular religious rituals.
The prayers for MGRs health were Mulaippari (the fertility rite of offering of
largely great tradition affairs. Despite germinated seeds), paal kudam (offering
criticisms by his political adversaries that milk in pots), the full range of kavadi,
he had reneged on the Dravidian move- man choru (the votive ritual of eating
ments rationalistic ideals, MGR main- food off the earthen floor), the self-mortitained Annas politics of accommodation fication rites of alagu kuthuthal (piercing
with no formal disavowal of rationalism. the body with hooks) and chedal (hookMs. Jayalalithaa, for her part, has seen no swinging), walking on fire, and carrying
need to be defensive. Her three terms in the fire pot have been performed extenoffice have seen the direct involvement of sively as the Jaya group of TV channels
the ruling party and the State in the pro- have not tired of showing. Many years
ago, a former AIADMK lady minister
motion of religious activity.
Major re-consecration rituals were donned a neem-leaf skirt. But it was experformed during her first term in office, ceptional. A DMK minister once walked
a practice continued in subsequent on fire he lost office!
terms. If Ammas pictures can be espied
through translucent shirt pockets, vi- Nature of political culture
Is there now a shift in the role of relibuthi (ash) and kumkumam (vermilion)
are conspicuous on the foreheads of gion in public and political life in Tamil
many AIADMK ministers and party men. Nadu that social scientists have not
Prayers for Ms. Jayalalithaas acquittal noted? The sheer scale of demonstrative
have, not surprisingly, dominated many religiosity harnessed to political deState-administered temples over the last mands is noteworthy. Read in conjuncsix months. Various great tradition ritu- tion with the religious fervour

conspicuous in politically charged guru

pujas such as those of U. Muthuramalingam Thevar, are these pointers to the
changing nature of contemporary political culture in Tamil Nadu?
The marriage of high religion and popular religiosity in the cause of politics has
serious implications for democratic politics. That this convergence is rooted in
the intermediate castes dominant in various regions of Tamil Nadu is not without
sociological significance. These intermediate castes, having tasted political power, harbour ever-rising political
aspirations. But unfortunately, these aspirations are devoid of any commitment
to democratic politics and culture as evidenced, for example, by the intermediate
castes attitude to Dalit aspirations and
the question of honour killings.
Tamil Nadu has for long prided itself
on its history of emancipatory politics,
radical social reform and a secularisation
of its culture. The bedrock of this political
culture, the non-Brahmin political movement, was inaugurated a century ago, in
1916. Dethroning the nationalist Congress party, it attained political power
half-a-century ago, in 1967. Will 2015
mark another watershed, albeit a regressive one, in the coming century?
(A.R. Venkatachalapathy is a historian