Bengaluru: Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa will face a critical judicial test tomorrow with the High Court set to pronounce its verdict on her appeal against her conviction in the disproportionate assets case.
As Tamil Nadu remains on edge, it will be a high-stake test as the judicial outcome could swing the political fortunes either way for the ruling AIADMK supremo and alter the political course in the neighbouring state, which will go to Assembly polls in about a year.
According to legal circles, the 67-year old Jayalalithaa need not be present in the court when the single judge bench of Justice C R Kumaraswamy delivers the judgement, just a day ahead of the three-month deadline set by the Supreme Court to complete the hearing on appeals by her and three others.
The court will decide on the appeals filed by Jayalalithaa and three others against the Special Court Judge Michael D'Cunha's September 27 last verdict sentencing them to four years in jail and imposing a hefty fine of Rs 100 crore on her and Rs 10 crore each on three others.
An acquittal would enable a big political comeback for Jayalalithaa, who has waged many legal battles and seen several ups and downs in her political career.
An adverse outcome, on the other hand, would accentuate uncertainty and cause more worries about the future of the AIADMK leader and her personality-based monolithic party.
She will remain disqualified under the Representation of the People Act from contesting elections for a period of 10 years—four years from the date of conviction and six years thereafter, unless a superior court sets aside the conviction.
During the hearing of the appeal, Jayalalithaa has contended that the then DMK government-led investigation had deliberately over-valued her assets and she had acquired the property, including jewellery, through legal means.
Anticipating arrival of thousands of AIADMK supporters from Tamil Nadu on the verdict day, city police have clamped prohibitory orders in one km radius of the High Court from 6 AM to 6 PM tomorrow, apart from beefing up security.
After meandering for 18 years, the case had reached the climax with the conviction in September last year that brought her down from the pedestal of Chief Ministership and unseated her from the Assembly.
She has earned the dubious distinction of losing the Chief Minister's post twice following conviction in graft cases—in 2001 and 2014.
Jayalalithaa had been charged with accumulating Rs 66.65 crore wealth disproportionate to known sources of her income from 1991-96 in her first term as Chief Minister in the case that has seen many political and legal twists and turns.
Her close aide Sasikala Natarajan, her niece Ilavarasi and her nephew and Jayalalithaa's disowned foster son Sudhakaran were held guilty by the trial court.
In perhaps one of the longest legal battles involving a political leader ever since the case was filed, the country has witnessed five Lok Sabha elections and Tamil Nadu three Assembly polls.
Controversy also swirled around the case after Karnataka Advocate General B V Acharya quit as Special Public Prosecutor and Bhavani Singh came in his place in the trial court.
Singh continued as SPP in the High Court but the Supreme Court recently annulled his appointment as “bad in law”, a verdict that brought back Acharya, who immediately filed a written submission seeking dismissal of the appeals by the AIADMK chief and three others.
The case was transferred to the Bangalore Special Court by the Supreme Court in 2003 on a plea by DMK, which claimed a fair trial cannot be held in Chennai as the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK government was in power.