The Karnataka high court overturned on Monday a trial court judgment and acquitted AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa and her three associates in an 18-year-old disproportionate assets case.
The order paves the way for her return to power as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu after she was forced to step down in September 2014 when she was convicted by a Bengaluru trial court.
In a statement released after her acquittal, Jayalalithaa thanked the people of Tamil Nadu for “reposing faith” in her and also thanked god for “the gift of people’s love”.
“It is a victory for justice, defeat for those who had conspired to defame and malign my legacy and the legacy of my mentor MGR,” said Jayalalithaa in her statement.
Jayalalithaa had appealed against her conviction in the Rs 66.64-crore disproportionate assets case by the special court judge Michael D’Cunha, who had sentenced her to 4 years in jail and slapped a fine of Rs 100 crore.
The AIADMK chief, along with aides N Sasikala, VN Sudhakaran and J Elasvarasi, was held guilty of holding unaccounted for income during her tenure as chief minister from 1991-96 by the trial court.
Her close aide Sasikala and Sasikala’s relatives Sudhakaran and Elavarasi were fined Rs 10 crore each.
It was all over in less than three minutes after justice CR Kumaraswamy entered the high court’s packed Hall number 14.
Pronouncing the operative portion of the judgement, which ran into 10 volumes and over 900 pages, he said, “Appeal allowed. All charges set aside. All are acquitted.”
It took a few moments for Jayalalithaa’s supporters and lawyers to regain their composure before they let out a collective cheer inside the court hall.
Police personnel rushed in and tried to contain the celebrations but to no avail. Once outside, they ignored police requests for order and launched into spontaneous celebrations and sloganeering.
Unlike the last time when they had arrived at the special court with sweets and flowers, AIADMK supporters seemed totally unprepared for a celebration. Party workers were seen zooming off in their cars to buy garlands and sweets from the nearby market.
Special public prosecutor BV Acharya said that the prosecution was denied adequate opportunity to present its case.
Reacting to the judgement, Acharya complained, “The prosecution was not allowed to make oral arguments.”
Clarifying that the decision to move the Supreme Court was not his alone, he said, “I did not expect this verdict. But so many judgements are surprising.”Jayalalithaa’s lawyer B Kumar was expectedly jubilant and said, “This is a historic judgement. Our faith in the judiciary has been restored.”
“The case against Jayalalithaa could not be proved so she has been let off,” said Kumar.
“Now, there is no restriction on Jayalalithaa to become the CM.”
There is consensus across party lines in the state that after her acquittal, Jayalalithaa will now be back with a bang. And the AIADMK will now want their Amma in the chief minister’s seat as soon as possible.
Speculations are also rife that Jayalalithaa could go for snap polls riding on the strength of the verdict in her favour that smashes the corruption plank raised against her by opposition parties.
“It will be a big blow to all opposition parties,” said C Lakshmanan, a professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies.
“It will be a nightmare for all of them. The AIADMK might have a cakewalk in the 2016 elections. The BJP may not be able to even
imagine a hold in Tamil Nadu in their lifetime unless they completely surrender to Amma,” he said.
Rabi Bernard, an AIADMK Rajya Sabha MP and a party spokesperson, said Jayalalithaa will definitely become the chief minister.