POLITICS

Why Sasikala Is Not Too Anxious About The Outcome Of The Disproportionate Assets Case

"Let it come, we will see," she said.

13/02/2017 11:41 AM IST | Updated 13/02/2017 11:46 AM IST
Press Trust of India

Despite her menacing threat on Saturday that she would do what's necessary once her patience runs out and her funny claim on Sunday that she was a lion, VK Sasikala's only chance of pushing forward with her ambition of becoming the Chief Minister Tamil Nadu is a favourable judgement from the Supreme Court on the Disproportionate Assets (DA) case this week.

Jayalalithaa was the main accused in the case and Sasikala was only a co-accused along with her two close relatives. After Jaya's death, she has become the main accused in the public eye. The fundamental question now is if the abatement of charges against Jayalalithaa, since she is dead, would be applicable against Sasikala. It's highly unlikely because the case had been posted for judgement before Jaya's death.

If it does, the case is over. Even if it's not, the odds in Sasikala's favour are as good as those against her.

READ: Sasikala Claims These Were Jayalalithaa's Last Words To Her

The main reason is the critical question that the Supreme Court (SC) bench concerned had asked the Karnataka government — the prosecutor in the case because it had been transferred out of Tamil Nadu for fear of the state government run by Jayalalithaa meddling with it — during the hearing if it could prove that the money circulated among the co-accused was that of Jayalalithaa's. Jaya's lawyer had argued that the prosecution couldn't simply presume that the money was hers because the co-accused lived in her house.

The SC bench also had made another significant point: "Disproportionate assets is not a crime. It is only a crime if it is proved that the source of the money is illegal. Otherwise [the illegality of disproportionate assets] is only an inference." The court went on to ask if there was any proof to establish that the money enjoyed and utilised by the accused was that of Jayalalithaa's alone, and was not received from a lawful source.

Although the prosecution lawyers made a spirited defence of their charges by even invoking the fear of corruption and bribery destroying the foundation of India's economy, the final decision of the court will hinge a lot on hard evidence — evidence linking illegality with the "disproportionate assets" that Jaya possessed along with Sasikala. Her staying with Jaya at the Poes Garden bungalow and being a partner in a number of companies may not be good enough.

Reuters Photographer / Reuters

In fact, it's almost the same question that helped former communications minister Dayanidhi Maran and Kalanithi Maran in their recent discharge from the Aircel-Maxis case by a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court. According to the CBI, Kalanithi Maran received kickbacks meant for Dayanidhi Maran as an investment from a Malaysian company. This is what the court said in their favour: "In the eyes of law, these grounds themselves are not enough to connect the money received in the company of Kalanithi Maran to Dayanidhi Maran. The three simple and ordinary facts that they are real brothers or that both are shareholders in some companies or that Dayanidhi may indicate their close association but nothing beyond that." The court also said that "perception or suspicion are not enough for criminal prosecution. The perception or suspicion is required to be investigated and supported by legally admissible evidence, which is wholly lacking in this case".

Not that the verdict of a lower court, such as the CBI court, is binding on the Supreme Court, but the logic is legally sound and the bench in the DA case had indeed made similar observations during the hearing. Was the Karnataka government successful in presenting legally tenable evidence pinpointing what precisely was Sasikala's share of the wealth and that it had been acquired illegally? It's not easy.

Even after the eight months it took to study the evidence, if the Supreme Court is not satisfied with the evidence, the only hope for Karnataka and Sasikala's political rivals is it referring the case back to the high court because the smart argument for assessing the assets of the accused individually was new and not considered by the lower court which punished them or the high court which acquitted them.

Was the Karnataka government successful in presenting legally tenable evidence pinpointing what precisely was Sasikala's share of the wealth and that it had been acquired illegally? It's not easy.

As BV Acharya, Karnataka's public prosecutor in the case, reportedly said, "In calculating disproportionate assets, value of assets, expenditure and income of all accused has been taken jointly along with that of firms and companies (34 in number) ... Neither the High Court nor the trial court has considered the assets or disproportionate assets of each accused separately. Hence the accused cannot now make out a case in these appeals contrary to the concurrent findings of the two courts and without even a plea in this behalf."

This indeed is a possibility because he has a valid point there. If it does happen, then the verdict of the special court in Bengaluru that convicted Jayalalithaa and others would become active again. Sasikala will have to go to the high court in appeal. It would mean that she may have to go jail if she doesn't get bail immediately.

Such an outcome would be as good as an adverse verdict from the Supreme Court because what's critical for her now is time. She needs to swear in soon before the support of her MLAs erodes. The moment they are out of the present confinement, there will be public pressure on them to desert Sasikala. Probably, they are unaware of the support O Panneerselvam (OPS) is gaining by the hour. Even the postponement for a few more days will be advantageous to OPS. If she is sent back to jail, MLAs are highly likely to jump ship.

READ: Three Political Mistakes That Have Proven Costly For Sasikala

Of the other two possibilities, one would be absolute victory in which the SC upholds the Karnataka High Court's verdict acquitting her. It would embolden her, reassure her MLAs and others, and would force the governor to go in for a floor test. OPS can still try to canvass for numbers on the strength of swelling public sentiments against Sasikala. On the other hand, if the court strikes down the high court verdict, it would spread panic, although the bravado may continue. On her speech to her MLAs on Sunday, she has already made a virtue of going to jails, as if she has done it for some public cause.

The point is, for Sasikala, there is still a sliver of hope. It's not as conclusive as many think. Probably that's why she coolly said "Varattum, parkalaam" (Let it come, we will see), when somebody asked her about the outcome of the case at her press meet on Sunday.

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