October 19, 2014

Jayalalithaa’s Conviction and After

From a Special Correspondent

SPECIAL Judge and 36th Additional Sessions Judge John Michael Cunha delivered a historic judgment in Bengaluru on September 27, 2014, holding the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu and the general secretary of the AIADMK, Selvi J Jayalalithaa guilty of charges of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act and sentenced her, along with three others, to four years of simple imprisonment. She was also asked to pay a fine of Rs 100 crores. Instead of accepting the court verdict or seeking judicial redress through appeals to the appropriate judicial fora, a section of AIADMK activists and supporters of the convicted chief minister resorted, over the next several days to violent protests across the state of Tamil Nadu. These protests resulted in significant damage to public property and caused great hardship to ordinary citizens of the state. While one can legitimately argue that court judgments are neither sacrosanct nor beyond scrutiny or public comment, these violent protests can neither be justified nor tolerated. In the immediate aftermath of the court judgment, the state administration seemed ill prepared to handle the violence and mayhem unleashed by ruling party cadres and supporters. While some of the immediate reactions of anguish at the verdict were very likely spontaneous, soon protests took on an organised and planned character, and were no longer the manifestation of spontaneous grief. A bus was burnt down in Kanchipuram, shopkeepers were forced to shut down, and normal life was sought to be paralysed. In a prompt reaction to the unfolding events, a statement was released to the media on behalf of the CPI(M) Tamil Nadu state committee stating, inter alia, that the judgment delivered by Justice Cunha would serve as a warning to persons in public life indulging in corruption, bribery and dishonest practices and will strengthen the struggle against corruption. The statement also called upon the state government to restore law and order, ensure peace and quell violent protests and attacks on public property in several places in the state. Protests and disruptions continued for some days after the judgment was delivered. On October 5, private bus operators ceased operations for a day while omnibus operators declared that they would not run buses or allow ticket booking between 10 am and 5 pm on the same day. An association of private school managements first announced that schools will remain closed on October 7 but later withdrew it in the face of strong condemnation by the CPI(M) and others. The rejection of Jayalalithaa’s bail application by Justice AV Chandrasekhara of the High Court of Karnataka led to renewed tensions. It was only late in the evening on October 7 that O Panneerselvam, who had been appointed as chief minister of Tamil Nadu after being elected as the leader of the AIADMK in the legislative assembly following the disqualification of Jayalalithaa as MLA and as chief minister, issued a statement calling upon ruling party supporters to desist from agitations causing hardship to the public, claiming in the same statement that law and order had been intact in the state throughout the period since the conviction of Jayalalithaa! The state secretariat of the CPI(M) which was holding its meeting in Chennai on October 7 took note of the tense situation following the dismissal of the bail application of Jayalalithaa and passed a detailed resolution on herbeing convicted and the events that followed. Noting that the AIADMK leader and others convicted along with her were free to pursue legal options if they wanted a reconsideration of their conviction and sentences, the resolution condemned the violent activities and the attempts to make the issue one of conflict between the people of Tamil Nadu and those of Karnataka. It also pointed out that: reports had appeared in the media that ruling party leaders and ministers were putting pressure on the association of private bus operators, private schools’ management associations and other professional bodies of employers to stage protests; elected local bodies were being pressurised in violation of rules to pass resolutions in support of convicted persons; policepersons in uniform were found wearing black badges against the judgment. AIADMK activists were being permitted to hold protest actions in sites that were routinely denied to legitimate democratic protests. The resolution noted that the BJP was trying to utilise this situation for its narrow political ends and was speaking of Articles 355 and 356 of the Indian Constitution being invoked and that the actions of DMK and some other parties in the state lent strength to this effort. It noted that this was against democracy and the rights of states. Drawing attention to several other instances of prominent Indian political figures being convicted or charged in corruption cases, and to rampant corruption in Tamil Nadu in sand mining, granite quarrying and other acts of loot of natural resources, the secretariat pointed out that the rise in corruption was linked to neo-liberal reforms. It called for a strong movement against corruption in high places and for eliminating corruption from public life. Parties such as the Congress, the BJP, various regional bourgeois parties including the DMK and the AIADMK had no moral right or credibility to speak of fighting corruption. Ironically enough, the AIADMK in its poll manifesto for the 14th Lok Sabha elections had spoken of helping to establish a corruption-free government at the centre! It was only the Left Parties that had the moral stature to campaign against corruption. Recalling the glorious record of late Comrades EMS Namboodiripad, Jyoti Basu, E K Nayanar, Nripen Chakraborty, Dasarath Dev and Achutha Menon , and of the leaders now with us such as VS Achuthanandan, Budhdhadeb Bhattacharya and Manik Sarkar in this regard, the resolution called for taking forward this tradition, the state secretariat of CPI(M) has decided to strengthen the struggle against corruption throughout Tamil Nadu. In its resolution of October 7, 2014, the Tamil Nadu state secretariat of the CPI(M) has put forward the following points: • Investigations must be expedited in all cases of high level corruption and the guilty punished. Assets accumulated through corrupt practices must be confiscated. • A Lokayuktha must be constituted in Tamil Nadu along the lines of the Central Lok Pal Act. • The government must take appropriate action within a specified time limit on any petition received from the public. • The struggle against neo-liberal policies which are the root of high level mega scandals must be strengthened The CPI(M) state secretariat resolution demanded that the new government and the state administration maintain law and order and ensure normal life in the state. The Party is bringing out a booklet on the issue of corruption and its links to neo-liberalism for the state-wide campaign against corruption. Several seminars on the issue are being planned as public events across the state. Every effort is being made to ensure that, besides the CPI, many Left minded and progressive individuals also participate in these seminars and in the campaign.