All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general-secretary V K Sasikala suddenly, over the past fortnight, made attempts to usurp power and ascend to the throne of the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, and tried to ensure that the incumbent Chief Minister O Panneerselvam resigned. There has been much speculation as to why Sasikala suddenly decided to take this course of action, after about two months of the death of J Jayalalithaa, especially in light of the fact that Panneerselvam was ‘the chosen one’. Apart from wrongfully detaining several members of the legislative assembly, Sasikala has tried everything in the book to cling on to power. She openly threatened to take action against Governor Vidyasagar Rao in the courts, and reminded him of his constitutional duty. The governor on his part followed the tried and tested method of former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao - not taking a decision is also taking a decision.
Much to the relief of those who have been dreading the takeover of the party by Sasikala, who aimed to usurp the chief ministership, the Supreme Court has found her guilty of having assets disproportionate to her known source of income, overturning the judgement of the Karnataka High Court, and sentencing Sasikala to complete the remainder of her jail term. By this action of the Supreme Court, Sasikala has effectively been barred from consideration for the post of chief minister. Supreme Court justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy in a lengthy judgement of more than 550 pages, restored the conviction and sentence by the trial court over a year ago. In a separate judgement, justice Roy has noted:
“A growing impression in contemporary existence seems to acknowledge, the all pervading pestilent presence of corruption almost in every walk of life, as if to rest reconciled to the octopoid stranglehold of this malaise with helpless awe. The common day experiences indeed do introduce one with unfailing regularity, the variegated cancerous concoctions of corruption with fearless impunity the gnawing into the frame and fabric of the nation’s essentia. Emboldened by the lucrative yields of such malignant materialism, the perpetrators of this malady have tightened the noose on the societal psyche. Individual and collective pursuits with curative interventions at all levels are thus indispensable to deliver the civil order from the asphyxiating snare of this escalating venality.”
The judge also noted that “Corruption is a vice of insatiable avarice for self-aggrandisement by the unscrupulous, taking unfair advantage of their power and authority and those in public office also, in breach of the institutional norms, mostly backed by military loyalists. Both the corrupt and the corrupter are indictable and answerable to the society and the whole country as a whole.”
A lot has been said about the constitutional propriety of the actions of Governor Rao. A view has been expressed that as per the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court in the Bommai case, it was incumbent on the Governor to swear Sasikala in as chief minister and allow her to prove her majority on the floor of the house. Another view has been that due to the impending decision of the Supreme Court in the disproportionate assets case, there was no rush to swear Sasikala in.
In an unprecedented act, the judges, last week, indicated that the judgement in the disproportionate assets case would be out sometime this week, when the matter was mentioned by the senior counsel. Whether it was prophetic or just a matter of right judgement the Governor’s action proved to be correct constitutionally and otherwise. Consider the scenario if the Governor had chosen to swear Sasikala in as chief minister following the dicta of the Supreme Court in Bommai case, the state would have been in a constitutional turmoil today after the top court set aside the acquittal of Sasikala by the High Court and upheld the conviction and sentence by the trial court. Off course, when the Supreme Court decided Bommai case, they did not contemplate that any governor in the country would be faced with a situation where a person, who is not a member of the legislative assembly was seeking to be sworn in as chief minister on having gathered the requisite support was hanging by a thread of hope against conviction in the disproportionate assets case.
Those questioning the constitutional propriety of the actions (or inaction) of the Governor, in waiting for the judgement of the Supreme Court, have now been proved wrong. His action has been proved to be correct, and constitutionally wise. Political pundits, who have been saying that this is only a ploy by the Bharatiya Janata Party to destabilise the AIADMK in the state, and to try and establish its own roots have now been left to eat mud especially in light of the conviction of Sasikala by the Supreme Court, as the Governor has proved constitutionally correct and stands vindicated.
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