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Political tension rises in India's Tamil Nadu following incoming leader's conviction

After India's Supreme Court upheld the corruption conviction of the incoming Tamil Nadu chief, VK Sasikala is trying to run the state assembly by remote control. But will she be successful? Murali Krishnan reports.

India's Supreme Court sentenced the incoming leader of Tamil Nadu state to a four-year prison sentence on Tuesday. VK Sasikala was found guilty of corruption in a case that dates back to the 1990s. The verdict will prevent her from taking up her post, and bans her from seeking elected office for another decade.

Prosecutors successfully argued that Sasikala and her mentor, former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram, had possessed "disproportionate assets" that could not possibly have been obtained with their public salaries. The pair owned bungalows, luxury cars, tea estates, gold and silver, and thousands of saris.

Jayalalithaa, one of India's most powerful and revered politicians, died in December last year after a "massive" cardiac arrest.

Tug of war

Hours after the court upheld the four-year jail term for the secretary-general of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party, Sasikala chose one of her loyalists for the chief minister post, thus making her intentions clear that she was not willing to hand over power to the state's caretaker chief minister, O Panneerselvam.

Indien Politiker in Chennai - Jayaram Jayalalitha (Getty Images/AFP/A. Sankar)

Jayalalithaa died in December last year after a "massive" cardiac arrest

Sasikala, 61, whose rise in politics has stunned everyone in Tamil Nadu, appointed Edappadi K Palanisamy as leader of the state assembly and expelled Panneerselvam. She requested Governor Vidyasagar Rao to swear in Palanisamy as state leader as her party has the majority in the 235-strong assembly.

Sasikala's conviction and the tug of war between her and Panneerselvam have heightened the political turmoil in the state. Panneerselvam, a close aide of the late Jayalalithaa, has been locked in a bitter power struggle to retain control of the AIADMK party. His problems were compounded when Sasikala was appointed as leader of the state assembly last week.

"Following Sasikala's conviction, there were celebrations in the Panneerselvam camp," Kandaswami Murugan, an AIADMK member, told DW.

But Panneerselvam, 65, probably realizes that he does not have the required backing of legislators to run the state.

"It has all come down to a numbers game in the assembly. The governor will appoint the candidate who has the support of more lawmakers in Tamil Nadu assembly," Raju Ramachandran, a former additional solicitor general, told DW.

Last attempt

Sasikala, a former video cassette saleswoman who initially impressed Jayalalithaa by making a campaign video, emerged from the background as a low-profile adviser to mount a successful bid within AIADMK to take over from interim leader Paneerselvam.

But after the Tuesday conviction, Sasikala's political career is practically over.

"She (Sasikala) can challenge the verdict through a review petition but her chances of success are very slim. I don't see any reprieve in this case, which has also received massive public attention," Soli Sorabjee, a lawyer, told DW.

Sasikala's last political gambit is to install a government of her own choice and run it from prison. But experts believe it won't be that easy given the unpredictability of Indian politics.

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