The fate of AIADMK general secretary V K Sasikala, who has staked claim to form the government in Tamil Nadu and is trying to put down a rebellion led by caretaker Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, is likely to be decided Tuesday when the Supreme Court delivers its verdict on a disproportionate assets case in which she is a co-accused.
If Sasikala were to be convicted in the case — her mentor, the late J Jayalalithaa is the prime accused — the AIADMK balance is likely to tilt towards Panneerselvam in their fight to become Chief Minister. But if she is acquitted, it will fortify Sasikala’s claim to the chair.
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The judgment will be delivered Tuesday morning by a bench of Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy. Both judges have readied separate judgments on the Karnataka government’s appeal against the acquittal of Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and two other co-accused in the two-decade-old case.
In another development Monday, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi advised Governor C Vidyasagar Rao to hold a composite floor test in the assembly, pitting Sasikala against Panneerselvam to test who commands support of the majority MLAs. Rohatgi suggested that a special session be convened in a week for the floor test.
In his opinion, Rohatgi cited the precedent of a composite floor test between Jagdambika Pal and Kalyan Singh in the Uttar Pradesh assembly. In its 1998 judgment, the Supreme Court had ordered a floor test in the assembly to determine who among the two claimants — Jagdambika Pal and Kalyan Singh — had majority support for the chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh.
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Rohatgi also added that the Supreme Court judgment in the DA case would further clarify the position regarding Sasikala’s chances to claim the top job.
According to charges in the DA case, Jayalalithaa had conspired with three co-accused — Sasikala, Sasikala’s sister-in-law Ilavarasi and Sasikala’s nephew V N Sudhakaran (Jayalalithaa’s foster son who she disowned later) — to acquire assets of Rs 66.65 crore, which was disproportionate to her known sources of income. The prosecution alleged that while Jayalalithaa was the prime accused, the other three abetted the offence by acting as benami owners of 32 private firms.
This is what can happen Tuesday:
If the judges give separate but concurring verdict
# In case Sasikala is convicted and sentenced to a jail term, she is disqualified under the Representation of the People Act from becoming Chief Minister and contesting polls for six years from the date of release from prison.
# If the High Court order of acquittal is upheld by both judges, the focus will shift to the Governor who will be bound to take a call on resolving the political crisis. The Governor could, in accordance with the AG’s opinion, seek a floor test.
# The matter could also be referred back to the Karnataka High Court to decide it afresh on merit, and to determine whether appeals should be heard afresh since the prime accused is no more.
# Should the Supreme Court set aside the High Court order and not stay the conviction by the trial court, Sasikala may still be automatically disqualified under law.
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If the judges give separate and dissenting verdict
# If the judges differ with each other on any of the aspect pertinent to the case, the case will have to be placed before the Chief Justice for setting up a three-judge bench to hear the whole matter afresh.
# In case of a mere reference to a larger bench, the acquittal order would be operative until the three-judge bench decides it and Sasikala remains competent to take up the chief ministerial role.
# In case the judges agree with each other in setting aside Sasikala’s acquittal but differ on the quantum of punishment, she would still be disqualified from becoming Chief Minister since she would need to win an election and become an MLA within six months of the swearing-in.