Chennai: From a regional satrap to a convict sentenced to four years in prison in disproportionate assets case, AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa’s political future looks bleak amidst speculation of political realignment in Tamil Nadu, set to go for Assembly polls in less than two years.
Jayalalithaa, 66, may have formally stepped down as Chief Minister following her automatic disqualification as an MLA owing to her sentence, but she is expected to fightback as has been in the past.
The average AIADMK supporter is more than confident that ‘Amma’ (Mother), as she is called by her followers, will bounce back and take the party to greater heights in the 2016 Assembly polls.
The political juggernaut called Jayalalithaa, unrivaled in elections held in the state since AIADMK’s landslide victory in 2011 polls, came to an abrupt halt on Saturday as the special court in Bangalore convicted her in the Rs 66.65 crore assets case and sentenced her to four years imprisonment that immediately disqualified her from being an MLA.
The sudden political development has given a ray of hope to Jayalalithaa’s rivals, who expect to put up a better show, if not rout the ruling AIADMK in the next elections.
The flight of Jayalalithaa’s supremacy may have descended for now with the verdict, but her avid supporters are confident the ‘Iron Lady’ will be back in contention soon.
However, the three-time Chief Minister may not be able to contest elections for ten years — four in prison and six thereafter — unless she gets the special court verdict overturned by a higher court swiftly.
Allies too have backed Jayalalithaa, saying the verdict was not final and that she will use all legal avenues to break the barricades and retain the stronghold in Tamil Nadu polity.
A known fighter since the days of humiliation at the hands of supporters of AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran’s wife VN Janaki during his funeral to the ugly incident in the Assembly involving the DMK in 1989 that pushed her limits of fightback, Jayalalithaa is sure not to take the conviction lying down.
Hailed by her supporters as a benevolent ‘Amma’ and seen as an authoritarian by her opponents and critics, Jayalalithaa has never been deterred by legal or electoral setbacks.
Jayalalithaa became Chief Minister for the first time in 1991 but her tenure then was marred by corruption charges and her party lost the elections in 1996.
The succeeding DMK government filed a slew of cases, including the wealth case, and arrested and prosecuted her, leading to convictions in TANSI land deal case among others.
Though she led the AIADMK to a resounding victory in the 2001 polls and became Chief Minister for the second time, she had to step down after Supreme Court held her appointment illegal in view of her conviction in TANSI case.
She, however, returned to the chair in about six months after being acquitted by the high court.
She banks on the support of the people, especially womenfolk, a strong vote bank of AIADMK from the days of her mentor and party founder MG Ramachandran.
It is no one’s secret that she will continue to call the shots with her loyalist in the saddle in the state.
With the slew of populist schemes to her credit and main opposition DMK in disarray following sibling rivalry between the sons of its President M Karunanidhi over the question of his political successor, the 66 year-old leader might still fashion a good show by her party in the hustings in 2016.
It is also to be seen how Jayalalithaa deals with her close aide Sasikala, who has also been convicted in the case along with two of her relatives including V N Sudhakaran, whose lavish wedding turned out to be a big negative point.
In the past, Jayalalithaa has twice disassociated herself from Sasikala family — once after the 1996 electoral drubbing and again in 2011. But on both occasions, they reunited after a short period.
Time alone could answer whether she would rise again or fade into political oblivion.