Most of India’s television anchors were in New York covering the US visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, so the news did not receive quite the coverage it would otherwise. But over the weekend, nothing less than a political tornado struck southern India. Jayalalithaa Jayaram, a former film star and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, was found guilty on corruption charges and sentenced to four years in jail. She was immediately obliged to stand down as Chief Minister and make her way to Bangalore central jail.
Already, another politician has been sworn in to head the state government while the 66-year-old files a series of appeals and plots to make her comeback. She has been down on her luck before and bounced back, but some are wondering whether this is the end of the woman known to supporters as Amma (Mother).
The political leader has served four terms as Tamil Nadu’s head of state, first in 1991. She has previously been convicted of corruption only to see the charges over-turned, and fought back when her party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), seemed down and out. She spent a brief period in jail in 1996.
The case for which she was convicted dates back almost 20 years and related to allegations she had amassed assets that could not be accounted for outside her stipulated sources of income. The court found this “unaccounted for” income totalled 530 million rupees (around £5.3m). Jayalalithaa, as she is known, was fined £9.8m. A long-time female associate, N Sasikala, was among others also found guilty.
Among the assets inspected by the court were farmhouses and property in Chennai, the state capital, agricultural land, jewellery, industrial sheds, cash deposits and a fleet of luxury cars. When her homes were raided in an earlier incident, she was found to have in her possession 1,800lbs of silver, 62lbs of gold, 750 pairs of shoes and 10,500 saris.
After the conviction her supporters clashed with police and a number of people were wounded. Unproven reports claimed that some supporters had killed themselves.
In the short term, the conviction of the politician ought to give a boost to her main regional rival, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which did poorly during the last general election. While Jayalalithaa’s supporters sobbed in the streets after the decision in Bangalore – to where the case had been moved – members of the DMK set off firecrackers in celebration.
There has been some speculation that the blow to the AIADMK could also be seized on the Bharatiya Janata Party, (BJP), the party of Mr Modi. For many years, Tamil Nadu has been a stronghold for local politics and the so-called national parties have struggled to make headway on their own, pushing them into alliances with one of the two main regional players.
But in the 2014 election, which saw Mr Modi secure a landslide win, Jayalalithaa decided to contest without a partner and secured 37 out of 39 seats returned by Tamil Nadu. It means the AIADMK is now the third-largest party in the national parliament. In Tamil Nadu it holds a clear majority in the state assembly.
As such, the AIADMK remains dominant and despite the judgement meaning Jayalalithaa cannot take part in elections for six years, she could still play a key political role from behind bars. It is unlikely southern India has heard the last of Jayalalithaa.