Failure to pay the fine — the highest on an individual in Indian criminal history by a factor of 100, legal sources said — is almost certain to extend her four-year jail term.
More immediately, it can hobble her bid for quick bail with two days left before Karnataka High Court goes into a five-day Dussehra break.
But raising the money will be a challenge because her conviction in a wealth case Saturday has led to the attachment of all her properties that the lower Bangalore court deemed unaccounted for.
That leaves the unseated chief minister with just two immovable assets: her Chennai bungalow and the 14.5-acre vineyard she owns in Andhra Pradesh, whose combined market value is unlikely to exceed Rs 30 crore. Besides, selling the bungalow may leave her homeless.
So, Jayalalithaa’s best bet seems to be for her party to step in and arrange for its Amma what should be a huge sum even by the standards of political fundraising.
In her 2011 Assembly election affidavit, Jayalalithaa had listed movable assets valued at Rs 13.03 crore and immovable property amounting to Rs 38.37 crore, which included a tea estate in Kodanad near Ooty. But the tea garden, ruled an illegal asset, has been attached.
Lawyers not connected with the case said Jayalalithaa might have to pay the fine before she gets bail. “This is a post-conviction fine, not just a surety relating to a bail bond. The high court is sure to ask whether the fine has been paid in the lower court,” a senior lawyer said.
Jayalalithaa’s chances will then hinge on whether her lawyers can persuade the high court to let her pay part of the fine, walk free, and pay the rest later.
Since a copy of the judgment will be available only in a couple of days, it’s not yet clear what further penalty would be imposed if she cannot cough up the entire amount before her jail term ends.
Lawyers said the standard practice is to add up to a year to the sentence or raise the money, if that is possible, by attaching the convict’s property.
History suggests that Jayalalithaa’s best hope lies with her party faithful.
In 1996-97, when she had corruption cases slapped on her and saw many of her bank accounts frozen, Jayalalithaa had borrowed Rs 10 lakh from her party to pay her lawyers. She later claimed to have repaid the loan.
In 1985, the AIADMK had reimbursed the state government for the Rs 92 lakh it had spent on the treatment of then chief minister M.G. Ramachandran in Chennai and New York, where he had undergone a kidney transplant.
The party organised a fundraiser and the collection exceeded Rs 92 lakh as industrialists, the film fraternity, ministers and MLAs competed with party cadres and commoners to contribute.
AIADMK leaders said the cadres would be only too willing to chip in again if needed. But the challenge this time is to raise more than 100 times the amount the party did nearly three decades ago. The cause is no longer humanitarian like last time but involves the fallout of a conviction by a court of law.
A party MLA said: “The AIADMK has more than one crore cadres. If each of us donates even Rs 100, the sum can be raised easily.”
A senior lawyer said there was no bar on large anonymous donations to political parties thanks to an amendment to the income-tax law in 2003, which required the parties to disclose only their income and not its sources.
“This has resulted in a jump in the number of registered political parties in the past few years, as forming a party has become the most convenient way to park black money,” he said. “No wonder, some owners of private engineering and medical colleges have tended to float political parties in whose account they can park the capitation fees they collect illegally from the students.”
Since another 18 months are left of the tenure of the AIADMK government, the usual sources of donations are also expected to come in handy should the party decide to raise funds for the Amma relief fund.
Jayalalithaa has to declare to the court where she got the money from. “She can always claim that it is a loan from the party and cite the past two examples (relating to MGR and herself),” an MP said.
Her three co-convicts, though, might find it far more difficult to pay their Rs 10-crore fines as virtually all of their properties have been attached.
While Sasikala and Ilavarasi may have to depend on their large circle of relatives, Jayalalithaa’s estranged foster son V.N. Sudhakaran could be left in the lurch.
He is virtually bankrupt and even his in-laws, the family of Tamil acting legend Sivaji Ganesan, are not keen to help him, sources said.
- The Telegraph, Calcutta