With Jayalalithaa’s acquittal, its time for the state to start functioning again.

BY JAYASHREE ARUNACHALAM

The afternoon before the judgment in Jayalalithaa’s disproportionate assets case, a group of men wearing white shirts and dhotis stood on the pavement outside the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) office in Royapettah, Chennai. They were soaked in sweat in their white shirts, and hooked to their phones. Every few minutes, someone would hang up and say, “Finished!” before moving on to the next call. These men are senior leaders of the AIADMK, each heading a division or wing of the party, and the phone calls were to coordinate the pujas and rallies taking place across Tamil Nadu.

“It is important that we take these steps to ensure her victory,” says J. Samuel, a senior party worker from Chennai South, who was checking on a puja at Kanchipuram’s Amman temple. “But she will win of course.” A second man, V. Narayanan, the head of the AIADMK youth wing in Chennai Central, was trying to find someone who sold firecrackers in bulk on a Sunday. “We will need these things when the time comes.”

Less than 24 hours later, the same group is outside Jayalalithaa’s home in Poes Garden, standing cheek by jowl with hundreds of other AIADMK supporters. Music is playing on hastily-erected loudspeakers; Tirupati laddoos and assorted sweets are being shoved around in boxes; crackers are being lit at a frenzied pace; people are dancing, as if possessed; and, in their trademark emotional outburst women party workers are weeping in each other’s arms, even as they wave excitedly at the cameras. It’s 11.05 a.m. on May 11, and Jayalalithaa and her three co-accused have just been acquitted by the Karnataka high court. “Amma is back,” says the AIADMK website.

The verdict ends nearly eight months of uncertainty since Jayalalithaa was convicted by a special court in Bangalore last year, for amassing wealth of Rs 66 crore disproportionate to her known sources of income in 1991-96. She faced a four-year jail term, a fine of Rs 100 crore, and had to step down as chief minister.

Her finance minister O. Panneerselvam took over instead, though it was clear that he was only a placeholder. Telephone calls to Panneerselvam’s office were often met by secretaries and underlings referring to him as “finance minister” and he occupied the finance minister’s chamber, not the chief minister’s. Until February this year, he would not even occupy the chief minister’s seat in the Assembly. The only thing that can be said of him was that he never let a constitutional oath of office come in the way of his true, prostrating fealty to Jayalalithaa. That and the fact that he did a good job of doing nothing as Tamil Nadu’s seventeenth chief minister.

His tenure was marked by “project paralysis”. “Files stopped moving in almost all departments; we were unable to get approval for projects because no one wanted to sign off on them in lieu of Jayalalithaa,” says an official at the social welfare department at the Tamil Nadu secretariat in Fort St. George. “Special projects require a letter written and signed by the chief minister on the front page. We are sure that’s why many projects were not completed on time.”

The Tamil Nadu Global Investors Meet had been slated for May 23 and 24, but was called off at the last minute, citing the “summer” as a major factor, even though road shows had already been held in countries like France, the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany, and MoUs worth Rs 76,000 crore investment had been expected to be inked. “It is no secret that it was postponed to September so that, should Jayalalithaa be acquitted, she could chair the meet,” says an assistant to the secretary of Tamil Nadu’s industries department.

Party leaders say that Panneerselvam will resign soon, and that Jayalalithaa will be sworn in as chief minister on May 17. The next few weeks will be crucial. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leaders are currently in conclave; their plans for next year’s Assembly elections have been in the making over the year, and this is a setback. The Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam’s Vijayakanth has been projecting himself as a leader, and had hoped the Bharatiya Janata Party would align with him, though it’s likely that he will try to curry AIADMK’s favour after today’s verdict. In her first comments after the verdict, Jayalalithaa said she has emerged as “tested pure gold”. For the thousands of celebrating AIADMK men and women, she was always unblemished and eternally pure.

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