Tension after the verdict

Print edition : October 17, 2014

AIADMK supporters defy the police outside Subramanian Swamy's residence in Chennai. Photo: By Special Arrangement

A State Transport Corporation bus that was set on fire on September 28 in Virudhunagar. Photo: By Special Arrangement

A LITTLE after 11 a.m. on September 27, with the Special Court Judge John Michael D’Cunha pronouncing Chief Minister Jayalalithaa guilty in the disproportionate assets case, Tamil Nadu ceased to have a Council of Ministers. Since such a verdict attracts immediate disqualification, the Cabinet existed for more than 24 hours only on the basis of the technicality that the Governor and the Legislative Assembly Secretary had not received a copy of the judgment.

Much before the sentencing, Tamil Nadu waited with bated breath for the verdict: the last time she was sentenced, in the mid-1990s, three innocent students were killed when a mob set fire to a college bus near Dharmapuri. Expecting widespread violence, people opted to stay indoors, even as cadre of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) left for Bangalore or flocked to the party headquarters on Lloyds Road and the Chief Minister’s residence at Poes Garden in Chennai.

Strangely, it appears no precautionary orders were passed in Tamil Nadu. A police officer had this explanation to offer: If the police chief issues a circular to his district heads and others before the September 27 verdict, he could be singled out for harsh treatment. The logic seemed to be that when the Chief Minister is to be acquitted why should anyone take any precautionary measures. Anyone who did not believe in this logic, the argument went, did not deserve to enjoy the fruits of the Jayalalithaa government. K. Ramanujam, a 1978-batch IPS officer, is the first Director General of Police (DGP) in the State to get the benefit of the Supreme Court ruling in the Prakash Singh case on police reforms, wherein a person appointed as police chief is entitled to hold the office for two years irrespective of whether s/he reaches the age of superannuation. Ramanujan was appointed DGP in November 2012 when he was 60 and he retires in November this year.

As news trickled down of Jayalalithaa’s conviction, AIADMK cadre began to give vent to their anger and frustration. With no visible police presence across the State, they began attacking shops, buses, opposition party workers and leaders, and even passers-by. Miscreants threw stones at Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi’s residence in Gopalapuram, Chennai; Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy’s residence in Santhome, Chennai; and former Union Minister A. Raja’s home in Perambalur near Tiruchi and targeted the office of the DMK organ, Murasoli, located in Kodambakkam, Chennai, and Kalaignar Arivalayam, the DMK office in Tiruchi.

Journalists waiting outside the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa were targeted and two cameras and tripod and light stands of television journalists were destroyed by AIADMK supporters. An NDTV O.B. van was also damaged in the attack. The photographer Gunasekaran of Kaalaikadhir was attacked in Namakkal district. Effigies of Karunanidhi, Subramanian Swamy, and DMK general secretary K. Anbazhagan were burnt across the State. Shops, restaurants, malls and cinemas across the State were forced to close by AIADMK activists or on the orders of the police. Events slated for the day were put off or cancelled. One cancellation announcement went like this: “Dear Brethren, Due to unforeseen circumstances, D2D Night Marathon was cancelled. Due to which around 7,000 food packets are available at Westin, Velachery. They want to distribute to the needy.”

Karunanidhi writes to Centre

Responding to the incidents, Karunanidhi wrote to the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India, requesting them to intervene and restore peace in Tamil Nadu:

“You must be aware of today’s developments in the State of Tamil Nadu pursuant to the judgment passed by the special court, Bangalore, in the D.A. case against Jayalalithaa and others.

“The State is now witnessing large-scale violence leading to law and order problems due to conviction of the State Chief Minister as ruling AIADMK party cadres are targeting the DMK leaders, functionaries, party offices and their residences throughout the State of Tamil Nadu.

“They have also attacked the BJP leader Subramanin Swamy’s residence for being the complainant in this case. They are also attacking the innocent and destroying the public properties with an intention to instil fear and panic in the minds of the public.

“The media is also not spared while covering the various violent incidents in the State. AIADMK cadres are indulging in large-scale violence and the police are silent spectators to these lawless acts of the partymen.

“The police in the State are not in a position to handle the situation and people of Tamil Nadu are living in the grip of fear. There is a complete breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state of Tamil Nadu. Unless stringent measures are taken immediately by the State police and administration, we fear for safety of the people in Tamil Nadu.

“If the present situation is allowed to continue the State may witness worsening of law and order situation which will be a grave threat to the citizen’s life and property.

“Under these circumstances I request your good self to intervene and take appropriate measures forthwith to restore the law and order and to ensure public peace, tranquillity and safety to the citizen’s and to their properties in the State of Tamil Nadu.”

A little after Karunanidhi wrote the letter, Governor K. Rosaiah summoned Chief Secretary Mohan Verghese Chunkath, DGP Ramanujam and Chennai Police Commissioner S. George to the Raj Bhavan and instructed them to maintain peace. The Union Home Ministry, too, swung into action and issued an advisory to the Tamil Nadu government to maintain law and order. The Home Ministry also offered its full support.

Verdict welcomed

Leaders across the political spectrum in Tamil Nadu welcomed the sentencing. “We had to take up the case because politics in Tamil Nadu was deteriorating. I am happy with the judgment. We sought the transfer of the case to another State because the situation in Tamil Nadu was not conducive to a fair trial,” said Anbazhagan, who had filed a petition in the Supreme Court pursuant to a DMK resolution to shift the trial outside Tamil Nadu. The DMK treasurer and heir apparent, M.K. Stalin, said: “The verdict shows that howsoever high we may be, the law is above us. The law has taken its course and truth has triumphed.”

Subramanian Swamy, the original complainant in the case, said: “She was corrupt.... Ultimately, it is of great pride for me as an Indian that a local sessions court judge stood up to all this and gave a correct judgment.” CPI(M) State Secretary G. Ramakrishnan asserted that the judgment was a warning to corrupt elements in public life. Pattali Makkal Katchi’s S. Ramadoss was of the opinion that the outcome of the case further increased people’s trust in courts. BJP State president Tamilisai Soundarajan welcomed the judgment.

Jayalalithaa’s well-wishers rooted for her and were confident that she would emerge victorious in this battle too. Facebook and twitter were flooded with both messages of hate and support. “Dr Jayalalitha madam will bounce back; we are always with you Madam,” said Hemachandran, a supporter, in his Facebook post. “madam is a doughty fighter who rises whenever she fall.... She will rise again very soooooooon and be back at the helm,” said Hemachandran. He received some flak from his friends for the post.

The next steps

Jayalalithaa faces more trouble in the form of an income tax case and a case relating to foreign remittance. The IT case is being heard in Chennai and the foreign remittance case, being prosecuted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), is in the Supreme Court. Jayalalithaa’s trusted officers, Special Adviser to Government Sheela Balakrishnan and her secretaries Ramalingam, Sudalaikkannan and Venkatraman, reached Bangalore the day after she was sentenced to take instructions. Unfortunately, the jail manual does not cater for meetings on a Sunday.

The last time that she was arrested, Jayalalithaa had a team of professionals handling her finances, legal issues, political strategy and public relations. The arrest happened when she was not in power, in December 1996. The extraordinarily efficient team, which managed to keep a posse of police personal at bay for over four hours before her arrest, was with her for about 10 months during a critical period of her career, giving frank advice on the steps she had to take and the consequences of each action. The most visible face of the team, ‘Computer’ Baskaran, who was jailed after she came to power in 2001 on a flimsy narcotics charge, passed away in Chennai recently.

Jayalalithaa does not have a comparable team now. If that team was her greatest advantage at a critical period of her political career, the fact that her party is in power is her greatest advantage now. Her future—and the AIADMK’s—depends on how she manages the government and the party in the next few months.

R.K. Radhakrishnan

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