Day of judgment

Scene of action

Print edition : October 17, 2014

AIADMK members on the Special Court premises at Parappana Agrahara in Bangalore after the verdict was delivered. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Bangalore sees unprecedented security measures and high-voltage drama on judgment day.

FROM being seriously talked about as a possible prime ministerial candidate just five months ago to becoming “jail inmate No. 7402” at Bangalore Central Prison in Parappana Agrahara on September 27, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has had a dramatic and disastrous fall. And the scenes within and in the vicinity of the tiny courthouse set up at Gandhi Bhavan on the Parappana Agrahara prison premises, just outside Bangalore, were equally dramatic.

Tight security

With the Bangalore Police leaving nothing to chance, the public and the large number of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) cadre—barring her ministerial colleagues, legislators and Members of Parliament—were kept two kilometres away. Barricades were put up around 200 metres from the court premises. Shops and roadside canteens in the vicinity of the prison were forced shut and traffic was prohibited on the arterial Kasavanahalli Main Road that leads to the prison. The only exception was the battery of print and electronic media personnel, who were packed like sardines into a small enclosure 200 m away from the courtroom.

According to Bangalore City Police Commissioner M.N. Reddi, a little over 2,000 police personnel were drawn from various divisions of the city to provide security and to maintain law and order. In addition, three companies of the Border Security Force and 50 companies of the Karnataka Reserve Police Force and the City Armed Reserve were also on duty. According to him, no untoward incident was reported on the day of the conviction.

The police were so keen to prevent any untoward incident that five Cabinet Ministers from Tamil Nadu, who came to Parappana Agrahara around 10 a.m., found it almost impossible to get past the barricades. Stuck in massive traffic jams—thanks to the thousands of Jayalalithaa supporters who lined all roads leading to the Special Court—they were forced to get down from their official vehicles and walk to the prison premises. Finance Minister and former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, Electricity and Excise Minister Natham R. Vishwanathan, Housing and Urban Development Minister R. Vaithilingam, Highways and Minor Ports Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, Rural Industries and Labour Minister P. Mohan were not recognised by the police personnel deployed at the security barricades and were prevented from going in. It was only after AIADMK party cadre pleaded with the police personnel on duty and one of them identified Panneerselvam that they were let in. The Ministers walked for a short distance before a police vehicle dropped them in the vicinity of the court premises.

Shell-shocked supporters

The verdict literally poleaxed her followers and party cadre. Shell shocked, most of them were unable to react cohesively, except to mouth the oft-repeated slogans denouncing Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) strongman K. Karunanidhi, burn his effigy and call the verdict “grossly unfair”. Many just stood transfixed outside the court premises. “We cannot believe that this is happening in a democracy. It is a conspiracy hatched by Karunanidhi and (former Union Finance Minister) P. Chidamabaram,” averred K.N. Ramachandran, the AIADMK MP from Sriperumbudur and the party’s treasurer in the lower house of Parliament.

But the mood, despite the tight security—Jayalalithaa is entitled to Z-plus security cover and the Karnataka Police were not leaving anything to chance—and traffic snarls since early morning on all roads, including the ultra-busy National Highway No. 7 (Varanasi to Kanyakumari) and Kasavanahalli Main Road, had not been sombre to start with. Posters welcoming Jayalalithaa to Bangalore and praising her had been put up all along the 18-km route from HAL Airport to Parappana Agrahara. Jayalalithaa’s supporters roared in enthusiasm (with the police having to resort to caning the boisterous among them) when the Chief Minister’s cavalcade drove past them and when she momentarily stopped to acknowledge their cheers.

Jayalalithaa’s arrival in Bangalore from Chennai by helicopter just before 9 a.m. and her hour-long drive to the Special Court premises may have lacked the drama that was to follow, but it was not short on the sycophancy that is the norm with Jayalalithaa followers. A party functionary from Madurai summed up the feelings of most of the 10,000 supporters (according to police estimates) assembled there when he said: “I haven’t seen God, but when I see Amma [Jayalalithaa] I feel I am seeing God.” Many were moved to tears after news of the verdict spread; some beat their chests and shouted slogans against the DMK.

With arguments having been completed last August and the large number of witnesses (99 for the defence and 250 for the prosecution) having been cross-examined, Special Judge John Michael D’Cunha read out the operative part of the nearly 1,000-page order within a few minutes of his court convening at 11 a.m. and passed orders convicting all the four accused. According to K.S. Harish, a Bangalore-based advocate who had assisted the court since 2011 in recording the statements of two of the accused (Sasikala and J. Ilavarasi) since they had pleaded that they were not familiar with English, the language of the court, “Jayalalithaa and the others were convicted in less than 10 minutes of the court sitting”. Thereafter, the judge gave the accused time until 1 p.m. to reflect on their convictions and to put forth their defence, before he pronounced the sentences and the punishment.

When the court reconvened at 2 p.m., all four accused pleaded for leniency, with three of them (Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and Ilavarasi) citing medical grounds. Counsel for Jayalalithaa cited her VVIP/ Z-plus category security status and position as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu —and the administrative duties that the post entails—to plead for a sentence that was less than three years since this would enable her to get bail and give her the opportunity to make arrangements for a smooth transfer of administrative power to her successor. But the judge did not agree with both arguments. He pronounced the sentences a little past 4 p.m.

Officials disclosed that Jayalalithaa requested to be taken to a private hospital as she was feeling uneasy. But this was not allowed since as per the jail manual convicts have to be first examined by a doctor within the jail premises and only after his/her recommendation can the prisoner be moved to a hospital outside. She then underwent a medical check-up after getting her prison inmate number, in Barrack 8, and was housed in a special cell near the Women’s Ward of the Parappana Agrahara Central Prison.

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