From power and pomp to prison term

The majesty of law has finally caught up with one of the most powerful chief ministers in the country.

 In our otherwise cynical polity, J Jayalalitha confronted a rare moment of truth -“Be you ever so high, the law is above you.” The moment of judgement could not have come at a more sanguine time for her. She could do no wrong in recent times and her political rivals in Tamil Nadu have been down and almost out. The AIADMK supremo had no opposition and with a “friendly” government at the Centre, Jayalalitha has been at the pinnacle of her political career. Over three years ago, she returned to power for the third time as CM. The DMK, her party’s main rival in the state, is passing an intense fratricidal war. Fighting the recent Lok Sabha elections on her own, she swept all but two of the 39 seats in the state. Her “Amma” brand canteens, bottled water, salt, school bags, pharmacies and cement have taken her to the height of popularity in the state. 

On Saturday, however, everything came crashing down. From the height of power and pomp, Jayalalitha earned the ignominy of being the first serving CM to be convicted on charges of possessing ill-gotten wealth and sent behind the bars to serve a jail term. This mighty fall would not have been possible if the Supreme Court had not struck down in July last year a discriminatory provision in the Representation of People Act that allowed convicted politicians to continue as members of legislature and parliament. The apex court subsequently stood its ground to reject a plea from the Union government to review the judgement. If this verdict bode ill for Jayalalitha, what made her 18-year-long legal battle against serious charges of amassing assets disproportionate to her known sources of income even more ominous in recent times was that the apex court itself was directly monitoring her trial in a special CBI court in Bangalore.  While the conviction of the mighty Jayalalitha is reassuring, what should continue to be a matter of concern is that it took almost two decades to complete the trial. At a time when the all-pervasive impression is that the high and mighty exploit the trial process to escape the long arm of law, it is imperative that the trial process is expedited and made time-bound. It will strengthen the rule of law and our justice system and thereby help reinforce our faith in the country’s democratic system. It is good for our democratic polity when mighty politicians, be it Jayalalitha, Lalu Prasad, or Om Prakash Chautala too have to serve time in jail like any aam aadmi criminal.

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