May 28, 2001

India Today, May 28, 2001



Convict Queen
Though AIADMK leader Jayalalitha was debarred from contesting the elections on grounds of her conviction in a corruption case, she was sworn in as chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Will her aggressive game plan work? And should popular mandate overrule judicial verdicts?



Great Call Of China
Indian entrepreneurs are eagerly joining the swiftly growing queue to set up shop in China.
The land once considered forbidden has suddenly become
the hottest destination for Indian businessmen.



Looking East
Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to Malaysia may have achieved little on Quattrochi's extradition and India's greater ties with ASEAN, but it showed there is more to their bilateral relations than these two issues.



Mother's Day
Stalinist methods played a vital role in the humiliating finale of M. Karunanidhi's dynastic ambition.



Readying For Nukes For the first time after India became a nuclear power, the Army stages a nuclear war game to check preparedness.





Convict Queen

Jayalalitha Jayaram is a woman of convictions. Consider her priorities immediately after being sworn in as chief minister of Tamil Nadu on Monday, May 14-safe drinking water, not a vindictive government; reopening of defunct spinning mills, not rhetoric on industrialisation; bolstering the public distribution system, not junk food eateries. Jayalalitha, who promises a government of convictions, is also a convict-and if you discount Kalyan Singh of Uttar Pradesh (imprisoned for a day for not maintaining peace in Ayodhya), the first to become chief minister of an Indian state. In 1989, M. Fathima Beevi made legal history as the first Indian woman to be appointed a Supreme Court judge. This past week, as governor of Tamil Nadu, she wrote herself into the chronicles again by inviting Jayalalitha, general secretary of the AIADMK, to take charge of the state. Politicians, journalists, professional pundits-every variety of person who makes a living by explaining life in terms of precedents-were for once silenced. Jayalalitha's brazenness had no equivalent, no parallel at no time in no democracy.


CONVICTION OF POWER: Despite all odds and indictment in three of the dozen-odd cases against her, Jayalalitha was sworn in as chief minister by Governor Fathima Beevi (right)

Why is Jayalalitha, one-time movie star, all-time prima donna, M.G. Ramach-
andran's favourite heroine and political legatee, Brahmin queen-usurper some would say-of an avowedly subaltern Dravida movement, such a singularity? She faces a dozen-odd cases for acts of corruption in her previous term in office (1991-1996). M. Karunanidhi's DMK government-which lost the recent assembly election-had set up special courts to try her. In three of the cases (see box), Amma, as she is known among the faithful, had been found guilty.

On October 9, 2000, in the tansi land deal case-where Jayalalitha was accused of selling public land at a throwaway price to a favoured company-the imperious Iyengar was sentenced to separate prison terms of three years and two years. This is what disqualified her from contesting the state election seven months later. As per Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951, those convicted in a criminal case and sent to jail for more than 24 months are barred from elections for six years.

While this clause has existed in the rulebook for 50 years, its interpretation has been varied. Convicted criminals who were out on bail and had appealed before a higher court happily contested the polls. In 1996, as then election commissioner G.V.G. Krishnamurthy recalls, "Of the 13,592 candidates for the Lok Sabha election, 1,500 faced criminal records or had been convicted." Forty of them eventually became MPs.

Suitably exercised, the Election Commission (EC) in August 1997, asked the returning officers to follow the RPA provisions more strictly. Being out on bail was not enough, the conviction would have to be kept in abeyance ("stayed") by the higher court appealed to. To Jayalalitha's misfortune, the Madras High Court suspended her sentence but, explicitly, not her conviction. As such, the returning officers-she filed papers from four seats, itself an illegality-rejected her candidature. Yet, when the AIADMK swept the election, its MLAs duly chose Jayalalitha as their leader. The political dominatrix was chief minister again.

Strangely, Jayalalitha's case was anticipated by the courts two decades ago. In 1980, V.C. Shukla of the Congress stood for election from the Mahasamund Lok Sabha constituency despite being convicted in the Kissa Kursi Ka case. Along with Sanjay Gandhi, he had been charged with the destruction of reels of a satirical film. Shukla had appealed and was out on bail when his nomination paper was accepted by the returning officer.

The decision was challenged in the Madhya Pradesh High Court. Well after Shukla won the election, the then justice J.S. Verma-later to preside over the Supreme Court-declared the returning officer's action incorrect. Meanwhile, in the Kissa Kursi Ka case, Shukla appealed to the Supreme Court and was acquitted. This meant he was exonerated with retrospective effect and nullified any period he may have been a convict. So despite ratifying Verma's ruling-it was correct on the day it was made-the apex court in effect upheld the acceptance of Shukla's nomination papers.

Justice R.S. Sarkaria did say though that the "converse"-the nomination papers of a convict on bail being rejected-had not been clarified but this was only a "hypothetical situation". Out of that delightfully grey area in the law has walked in the 21st Century fox-Chief Minister Jayalalitha.

Care Today


Bands Blast
"United For Gujarat," a concert held recently at the Nehru Stadium, Delhi, brought together Sufi rock band Junoon from Pakistan, Euphoria and Silk Route from India and Bangla rock group Miles from Bangladesh to perform in aid of quake victims in Gujarat.

Looking Glass

Delhi Art Gallery:
The Delhi Art Club

Delhi Cinema:
"Flicks Down Under"

Mumbai Restaurant:

Kolkata Restaurant:


    Web Exclusives

The Madhya Pradesh governor orders a CBI inquiry into a land allotment by the chief minister to the Nai Duniya group, kicking off a constitutional crisis. INDIA TODAY Special Correspondent Neeraj Mishra reports in
Conflict Of Interest.



India Today, May 21, 2001

Click here to view
the previous issue