“I will not allow the government or AIADMK to turn the Veda Nilayam residence of Jayalalithaa into a memorial or museum,” said Deepa, who, along with her brother, has been declared the “legal heir” to the properties of their late aunt and six-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
The Madras High Court order, fortifying the siblings’ claim to the properties including the poshest address in Poes Garden— which for years was the state’s power centre—comes at a time the ruling AIADMK government passed an ordinance to make Veda Nilayam a memorial of the late chief minister and former party supremo.
The court on Friday issued a clarification in the final order by changing the term ‘Class II legal heirs’ to ‘legal heirs’ because the Class I and Class II categories under Hindu Succession Act of 1956 apply only to heirs of a Hindu male who died without a will.
“The court order was a victory for me and my brother. We fought this together. Next, we will challenge the ordinance. Anyway it is going to be a long process to get possession of all her assets,” said Deepa.
She said revenue records are yet to be traced. “We don’t know who is in possession of her assets. One thing is very clear, we are not going to give it to the government,” she said.
The total assets of Jayalalithaa were worth nearly Rs 1,000 crore, according to the affidavits in the disproportionate assets case in which Jayalalithaa was convicted after her death. They include immovable properties worth Rs 20 crore, new or additional construction of buildings worth Rs 22.53 crore , gold and diamond jewellery valued at Rs 5.23 crore, cash balance in bank and liquid cash of Rs 10.64 crore besides other investments and assets. Affidavits seeking possession by Deepa and Deepak estimate only Rs 188 crore. These estimates only count her assets till 1996.
After the verdict, Deepa said she is done fighting. “Hereafter, I am not into politics,” she told The Indian Express. Immediately after her aunt’s death, she had made an attempt to step into the shoes of her aunt but gave up.
“I was forced to enter politics after they provoked me. Even the senior AIADMK leaders tried to make it appear that we had no right over our aunt’s assets. However, AIADMK cadres were empathetic… That is why they supported me and I made an attempt in politics…,” Deepa said.
Deepa, 44, and Deepak, 38, children of Jayalalithaa’s brother Jayakumar, who died in 1995, had stayed away from Jayalalithaa’s inner circle for a long time. Though Deepa was denied permission to visit Jayalalithaa at the Apollo Hospital before her death, Deepak maintained camaraderie with Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala. He was seen with Sasikala doing Jayalalithaa’s last rites.
A section of leadership in AIADMK fears that the properties will finally go into the hands of Sasikala’s family, which includes her nephew TTV Dhinakaran. After Jayalalithaa’s death, Sasikala become the party’s general secretary and shortly thereafter was sent to prison by the apex court.
Completing her prison term in the disproportionate asset case, Sasikala is likely to be released from the Bengaluru prison after October 2020. While multiple sources said it is unlikely that the AIADMK leadership will unite with the Sasikala camp, a senior leader said BJP has plans for it—“it is seen as a crucial factor to defeat DMK in the next assembly polls in May 2021.”
A state minister said the high court order has no political significance.
“None of the top leaders leading AIADMK has an emotional connection with Veda Nilayam,” he said, recalling his own memories of visiting Veda Nilayam when Jayalalithaa was alive. “She used to scold us a lot, she used to shout at many ministers each time… Many had left home from Poes Garden meetings without a cabinet portfolio. We used to shiver when we entered that gate,” he said.
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