Given this reality, there is an expectation that corruption at the highest corridors of power will not be punished and will be rewarded with impunity. The landmark judgment in J Jayalalithaa’s disproportionate assets case has renewed our faith in the judiciary. Justice, though delayed, has been rendered giving us hope that we do live in a rule of law society and that no one is above the law.
The Supreme Court has restored the Trial Court judgment delivered by Judge (now Justice) Michael D’Cunha convicting the accused Jayalalithaa, Sasikala, Elavarasi and Sudhakaran and sentencing them to four- years imprisonment and fine and overturned the judgment of the Karnataka High Court that acquitted them. In a 570-page judgment, the Supreme Court examined the evidence and held that the accused indeed held disproportionate assets and had violated provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. While the judges PC Ghose, A Roy of the Supreme Court and Michael D’Cunha (now Judge of the High Court) are to be celebrated for fearlessly exercising their duties, we must recollect that the chequered history of this litigation. The complaint against J Jayalalithaa was lodged in 1996 and the chargesheet indicting VK Sasikala and others was filed in 1997. The life cycle of this prosecution has thus been over 20 years, which is by any calculation, unconscionably long and delayed. We must also remember that the prime accused in this case predeceased the logical culmination of the prosecution. This case also had to be transferred to Bengaluru since witnesses were turning hostile and there was a legitimate fear that fair trial could not be ensured in Tamil Nadu itself. When the Trial Court convicted the accused, we witnessed horrific acts of violence including the tragic bus-burning incident in Dharmapuri where three young women were killed. The accused successfully delayed the case for two decades and enjoyed power for three terms despite this seri ous charge of corruption hanging over their heads like the sword of Damocles by delaying the case.
As the public is rejoicing the conviction of Sasikala, let us not forget that she was guilty only by association. Her conviction stood because it was found that Jayalalithaa committed offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The Supreme Court has thus confirmed that Jayalalithaa was corrupt and that it is clear that she has left behind a tainted legacy. All factions of the AIADMK are claiming to follow the way of ‘Amma’ and inspired, quite literally, by her spirit. What does this mean to the AIADMK’s commitment to/against corruption? Leaders of the party are yet to make any public statement distancing themselves from Jayalalithaa’s corruption.
The fact that Sasikala and her cohorts are punished does not lead to a natural corollary of a clean government. The constituents that are waiting in queue to fill the current vacuum are equally, if not more corrupt and are cut from the same cloth. Neither of the leading parties vying for power enjoy a reputation of being incorruptible. They are both marred by corruption charges of a shocking scale. Over the past many decades, we have strayed from rationalist politics that Tamil Nadu was known for. Instead, we have fallen into the habit of hero worship and blind loyalty to those in power. In the wake of the famous Marina protests where the youth of the state proved that they are not apathetic and that they are eager to be involved in politics, let us hope that this judgment propels us into an age of principle-based politics.
The writer is Senior Advocate, Madras High Court