Chennai: At 10.30 am, the Supreme Court is scheduled to deliver whether VK Sasikala, in the running for Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, is guilty in a corruption case that dates back to the early 90s. In Chennai, the police is patrolling different landmarks including the Governor’s office-cum-residence, Raj Bhavan, the headquarters of main political parties, and the home that belonged to J Jayalaithaa, who died in December. Ms Sasikala was her live-in aide and the famous Poes Garden bungalow remains her base.
Today’s verdict will be delivered separately by two judges – each will read out his order. That does not mean they will necessarily disagree. If they find her guilty, they could extinguish the 61-year-old’s claim to serve as Chief Minister; if she is acquitted, her credibility will solidify considerably.
15,000 police personnel have been posted across Chennai and nearly 4,000 people have been arrested over the last few days as a precaution.
Ms Sasikala spent the night at a resort on the outskirts of Chennai, where about 120 legislators from her party, the ruling AIADMK, have been stationed for a week to prevent them from switching allegiance to her rival, O Panneerselvam, who took over as Chief Minister after the death of Ms Jayalalithaa, his mentor. OPS, as he is known, has refused party orders to facilitate the promotion of Ms Sasikala to the state’s top job. Instead, like her, he has petitioned Governor C Vidyasagar Rao for the right to take a trust vote in the legislature to prove he is the rightful head of government.
The Madras High Court was informed yesterday by the police that the outpost created by Ms Sasikala at Golden Resort is not tantamount to illegal confinement, as alleged by a clutch of petitions, and that the legislators bunkered there say their stay is voluntary. To keep her flock together, Ms Sasiakala drove last night to the resort, visited villages nearby and presented chocolates to children, then addressed the legislators in a speech replete with references to “Amma” (Jayalalithaa) and their close relationship to emphasize the integrity and authenticity of her claim as Ms Jayalalithaa’s successor.
Despite the motivational speech, one legislator decamped and has joined Mr Panneerselvam, who now has eight state law-makers and 11 parliamentarians backing him. VK Sasikala has about 126 MLAs now on her side – nine more than she needs to win a trust vote.
Ms Jayalalithaa served four times as Chief Minister. The corruption case being decided today accuses Ms Sasikala along with her former’s male relatives of accruing an illicit fortune of about 60 crores that was loaded with valuable real estate, jewelry and cash that could not be explained by their declared sources of income. Though the case rests on Ms Jayalalithaa’s alleged misuse of her office as Chief Minister, the verdict is now significant because of the impact it will force on Ms Sasikala’s career. If she is convicted, she cannot run for office for six years. If acquitted, she would be asked by the Governor to prove her majority and, if successful, would then take oath as Chief Minister.
Ms Sasikala has never contested any election – not even one within her party – and her clamour for Chief Minister has driven public opinion into outrage against her proposed promotion, with social media campaigns and celebrities deriding her for trying to use sheer force -a reference again to the sequestering of MLAs -to fulfil her political ambition.