The Economic Times

Tamil Nadu's J Jayalalithaa has become the first incumbent chief minister to be convicted for corruption, throwing her political career into uncertainty and stunning India's political class that is widely seen as riven with graft.

At a makeshift court inside a prison on Saturday, special judge John Michael Cunha found the former movie star guilty of owning more wealth than she could account for and sentenced her to four years in jail and a fine of `100 crore. If the sentence stands, Jayalalithaa, 66, will be barred from contesting elections for a decade. The conviction automatically disqualified her as an MLA. At the time of writing, reports were coming in that Jayalalithaa complained of dizziness and was taken to hospital. Jayalalithaa's close aide N SasikalaIlavarasi (sister-in-law of Sasikala) and VNSudhakaran, a foster son of the chief minister who has been disowned by her, were also found guilty and fined `10 crore each. "There cannot be any leniency in corruption cases," Cunha observed while hearing arguments about the sentencing.

The development imperils Jayalalithaa's political career although observers said it may not hurt her power base or influence in the immediate future given her iron-grip over the party. The verdict sent shockwaves across the political establishment and triggered violence across Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu. Political parties, which normally try to outdo each other to score political points, reacted cautiously. Not even arch-rival DMK gloated about Jayalalithaa's misfortune, a sign of the nervousness inspired by strict laws that seek to curtail the criminalization of politics. The Tamil Nadu chief minister is the highest-profile victim of a Supreme Court clarification last year that elected representatives become disqualified immediately after conviction.

"The judgment shows the law is taking its course in India. We need people to be held accountable for their actions while they held public office," said Trilochan Sastry, a trustee at the Association for Democratic Reforms.

"It is a judgement which was long overdue. The judiciary must explain the long delay which enabled Jayalalithaa to become chief minister twice in the meantime," said supreme court senior advocate Dushyant Dave. The BJP believes it can gain from the situation. "The AIADMK member has been jailed and soon the DMK members will also go behind bars in the 2G case. Only we will be left,'' said Tamilisai Soundararajan, BJP state president.

However, MSS Pandian of the Jawaharlal Nehru University said that if the conviction leads to the prolonged absence of Jayalalithaa from active leadership, it could benefit the DMK. AIADMK members may move to the DMK or the BJP. "This may strengthen the BJP but not substantially enough to come to power in Tamil Nadu,'' he said.

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