With the Sri Lankan government also facing a legal crisis, the acquittal of Tamil Nadu’s former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram - who had been convicted and jailed on charges of illegally amassing hundreds of millions of dollars – may have repercussions in India and Sri Lanka.
The Karnataka High Court Judge Justice C. R. Kumaraswamy on May 11 gave a ten-second judgment acquitting Ms. Jayalalithaa, about seven months after a Bangalore High Court Judge convicted her. Several legal analysts in India - referring to this case and the case where well-known actor Salman Khan was granted bail, after being convicted of killing a person in a motor accident – are raising questions about what has happened to Lady Liberty. They are asking whether, instead of all people being treated fairly and equally, there is a not-so-subtle tilt towards the rich and the powerful.
After last year’s conviction by the Bangalore High Court, Ms. Jayalalithaa was forced to quit her post as Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister though the former actress was widely popular not only because of her star roles but also because she had initiated a multitude of charitable missions and was fondly referred to by millions of people as ‘Amma.’
“The case against Jayalalithaa could not be proved so she has been acquitted. Now, there is no restriction for Ms. Jayalalithaa to become the Chief Minister,” her Lawyer B. Kumar said. Special public prosecutor B. V. Acharya, however, said the prosecution was denied an opportunity for oral arguments. “I feel this is a case where the prosecution has been denied adequate opportunity to present its case,” Mr. Acharya said.
There is consensus across party lines in Tamil Nadu that after her acquittal, Ms. Jayalalithaa will now be back with a bang and is likely to be sworn in as Chief Minister this week. Her ministers and advisors appear to idolize her so much that some have published newspaper advertisements thanking Karnataka Judge Kumaraswamy.
Speculation is also rife that Ms. Jayalalithaa could go for snap polls riding on the strength of the verdict in her favour.
“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 them. Ms. Jayalalithaa’s All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) might have a cakewalk in the next election. The ruling Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narandra Modi may not be able to even imagine a hold in Tamil Nadu in its lifetime unless it completely surrenders to Amma,” he told the Hindustan Times.
The parallels between what happened in Karnataka on May 11 and what is happening in Sri Lanka today are significant. Since the defeat of the Rajapaksa regime on January 8 this year, some 70 VIPs, Ministers, MPs, local council members and top officials of the former regime are being questioned by the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID) and the Commission Investigating Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIAOBOC). Last Wednesday, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court gave a ruling to prevent the arrest of former Defence Secreatry Gotabaya Rajapaksa till a verdict is given on his petition. Mr. Rajapaksa in a 600-page petition had challenged the validity of the FCID, alleging it was carrying out a political vendetta against those in or linked to the former regime. The two-judge bench put off further hearing for October 6, almost five months later. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was named as one of the respondents in this petition, has said he will file an application this week asking for a review of this decision by a five-judge bench.
We hope investigative detectives and other authorities here would collect sufficient documentary evidence before they proceed with the case of alleged corruption and fraud, bribery and wheeler deals. Some people may complain that charges are being made regularly, but the number of cases filed is still in single digits. Yet in such cases, justice delayed is not justice denied. It is better to delay and collect substantial evidence rather than face a ‘Jayalalithaa scenario’ where a case or cases are dismissed by Courts for lack of evidence. It is one thing to make charges but legal principles demand that in a court of law charges need to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.