VK Sasikala Natarajan is set to be sworn in as chief minister of India’s Tamil Nadu state early on Tuesday morning amid reports that the Supreme Court will deliver a verdict next week in a disproportionate assets case against her, the late chief minister J Jayalalithaa and two others.
If found guilty, she may not be able to contest an assembly by-election to become a lawmaker, which she would be required to do within six months in order to continue as chief minister.
In another development, meanwhile, the state government tried to dispel conspiracy rumors surrounding the death of Sasikala’s mentor, Jayalalithaa, at a media conference on Monday.
Dr Richard Beale, who treated Jayalalithaa, said her health had declined suddenly. She had diabetes and respiratory problems, as well as a condition known as sepsis that arises when the body’s response to infection injures its own tissues and organs.
The case against Sasikala
The AIADMK party named Sasikala new leader of the legislature at an emergency meeting on Sunday, and is now keen to get her swearing-in out of the way before any verdict on her case. The Supreme Court reserved its judgement on the disproportionate assets case on June 7 last year.
The Karnataka high court had acquitted all four individuals accused of conspiring to amass Rs530 million (US$7.89 million), disproportionate to their known sources of income, in May 2015. However various petitioners, including the government of Karnataka, appealed to the Supreme Court against the acquittal.
On Sunday, interim Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam stepped aside for Sasikala – Jayalalithaa’s ‘soul sister’ – to take over the reins.
The opposition party, DMK, called her elevation a Black Sunday for democracy, stating that the people of Tamil Nadu did not vote for anyone from Jayalalithaa’s “household” to be the chief minister.
Sasikala has been living in Jayalaithaa’s Poes Garden home for over two decades but has no direct political experience.
Jayalalithaa’s niece, Deepa Jayakumar, also questioned Sasikala’s appointment, comparing her take-over to a “coup.”
There were rumblings of discontent in the AIADMK itself when Sasikala was made party general secretary after Jayalaithaa passed away two months ago. Many party members are apprehensive about the roles Sasikala’s family members may assume after she becomes the chief minister.
Sasikala was expelled from AIADMK in 2012 after renewing ties with her family, whom Jayalalithaa had viewed as conspirators.
Jayakumar had previously hinted at conspiracy behind her aunt’s death after she was barred from meeting her in hospital.