The conviction of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in an 18-year-old disproportionate assets case by a Special Judge John Michael D’Cunha in Bangalore is one of the few examples of a powerful politician being held accountable for graft in our endemically corrupt political system and it is also a significant vindication of a vital constitutional principal that the rule of law be upheld for all citizens including persons in high public office.
Ms. Jayalalithaa is the first serving Chief Minister to be convicted under the prevention of corruption Act; before her only a handful of political leaders have had to face jail terms in corruption cases. Now unless overturned by a higher court, the judgment means Jayalalithaa cannot contest elections for 10 year and these kinds of rulings are literally required to check the corruption practices and abuse of power by politicians.
But this conviction did not happen as a matter of ordinary legal course. At every stage, attempt were made to obstruct and delay the judicial process. D’Cunha, who has grabbed attention for delivering the historic verdict and is the man of the moment, is the fifth judge to deal with the 18-year-old case after it was transferred to Bangalore by the Supreme Court in November 2003.
It is commendable that the prosecution and the judges involved in this case stood up to the pressures and upheld the principles of justice and fairness. Why can’t we have such cases, as others, being decided within a time frame of, say, a couple of years, including any appeals process?
To deal with corruption in public life, the country’s requirements are two-fold: a more effective legal framework to prevent the abuse of power, and second the procedural reform that would limit the duration of cases. It is not really a matter of choice any more, but a desperate need.
AMIT KUMAR RANA