CHENNAI: The deck is clear for VK Sasikala to re-enter the political stage in Tamil Nadu, her image a recurring memory among large sections of the people in the state. This, even as she spent the past few years in jail in Bengaluru in a corruption case in which ex-chief minister the deceased J Jayalalithaa was the main accused.
Sasikala along with her two relatives – VN Sudhakaran and J Elavarasi — are serving terms in the Parapana Agrahara Central Jail in Bengaluru.
Sasikala deposited Rs 10 crore for her release from prison, which was the fine amount imposed on her for having acquired wealth beyond her normal means of income, over and above the jail term confirmed by the Supreme Court while delivering its order in 2017. The Supreme Court order had come based on an appeal the Enforcement Directorate filed against Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and others, after the Karnataka high court upturned the jail sentence imposed on Jayalalithaa and others by the trial court.
The appeal remained shelved in the Supreme Court until Jayalalithaa’s death, after which Sasikala was ordered to undergo the jail term.
Driving across Tamil Nadu, a sympathy sentiment in favour of Sasikala was palpable in recent times. There are those who feel Sasikala paid a price for Jaya’s greed for wealth. It was true also that Sasikala and her family members took advantage of their closeness to Jayalalithaa when she was in power. Sasikala mostly stayed with Jayalalithaa in her Poes Garden residence.
Recently, Sasikala’s properties worth Rs 1,500crore were seized by the Income Tax department.
It was in year 2014 that the trial court convicted Jayalalithaa and three others in a follow up to a disproportionate assets case filed against Jaya and the others some 18 years ago before the trial court verdict came. The trial court had fined Jayalalithaa Rs 100crore as also given her a jail term.
In 2015, the Karnataka high court set aside the trial court order against Jayalalithaa. The government filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, which lay there until Jaya’s death. Jaya’s demise came in December 2016, a few months after she and her party were elected into office. Sasikala, Jaya’s confidante in personal and party matters, then took charge of AIADMK, and after a fight with Pannerselvam, installed EK Palaniswami as CM.
Sasikala’s end of jail term and release date is January 27, 2021. She is entitled to a brief reduction of the jail term on grounds of good conduct in the jail; something that is granted to every disciplined prisoner at end of term. This could mean her release could be expected anytime now.
The Tamil Nadu assembly polls are expected in May next. A convict in a corruption case has legal restraints in relation to entering the election fray, but legal circles say this is old story and changes have been effected in law some time ago, doing away with such a clause. If so, or even otherwise, Sasikala will be a major draw for the assembly poll campaign if and when she’s out of jail.
The AIADMK, which she sought to lead after Jayalalithaa’s demise, is not in a good shape. The governance of 66-year-old Edappadi K Palaniswami, as chief minister since February 2017 has been lackluster. His deputy and former acting CM, O Pannerselvam, has not been on good terms with the CM, but the two have buried their hatchet in the run-up to the approaching assembly polls and decided that Palaniswami can be projected as the CM for the next term too if the party retains power. The Lok Sabha polls in 2019 saw DMK sweeping the polls and the AIDMK getting only one LS seat.
Palaniswami made it clear that VK Sasikala and her family members, including former party deputy Dhinakaran, will not be allowed to be a part of the AIDMK even after her release. He is aware that her presence will be a threat to his leadership. IHN-NN
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