India’s top court granted bail Friday to a powerful south Indian film star-turned-politician jailed last month for corruption, a ruling that sparked jubilation in her home state.
Jayalalithaa Jayaram, 66, an ex-film star and a longtime head of Tamil Nadu, was convicted last month of having land, gold and other assets vastly exceeding her income in a case that had dragged on for nearly two decades, and sentenced to four years in jail.
The Supreme Court ruled that hugely popular Jayalalithaa, known as “Amma” or “mother” to adoring supporters, could be freed on bail pending an appeal against her conviction.
“She’s been given conditional bail,” senior lawyer Subramanian Swamy, a former friend of Jayalalithaa who filed the corruption case, told reporters.
Jayalalithaa’s supporters danced joyously, waving their arms, flashing victory signs and shouting “Amma, Amma” in New Delhi and in her Tamil Nadu home state, after the court’s decision.
Following her conviction, Jayalalithaa, head of the AIADMK or All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, was obliged by law to step down as Tamil Nadu chief minister.
She was replaced by a loyal follower at a swearing-in ceremony where many cabinet members sobbed into handkerchiefs in an emotional display of fidelity.
The Supreme Court insisted in exchange for granting Jayalalithaa bail that the politician — nicknamed the “iron butterfly” for her firm rule — appeal to her supporters not to resort to violence over her case.
Many of her supporters staged protests and some even committed suicide in the days after her conviction, Tamil Nadu police say.
— Court orders swift hearing —
The court Friday also ordered Jayalalithaa’s case be heard swiftly, saying all her appeal papers must be lodged with the Supreme Court by December 18.
“If the paperwork is not filed within two months, then we won’t give you even a single day more,” the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu said.
After receiving the documents in December, Dattu said he would tell the appeal court in the southern state of Karnataka to deal with the case within three months, saying the case, first filed in 1997, had dragged on too long.
At her sentencing last month, Jayalalithaa was also fined a massive one billion rupees ($16 million) for illegally amassing wealth — including gold, properties, shoes and saris.
Politicians have been rarely convicted of corruption in India despite widespread public anger over endemic graft at every level of life.
The regional leader has garnered huge support with her state-run canteens serving nutritious food at low cost as well as election freebies including electric blenders, goats and small amounts of gold.
Court officials said it may take until Saturday for paperwork to be ready for Jayalalithaa’s release from jail in Bangalore, capital of Karnataka. Her case was shifted to Karnataka to ensure a fair trial.
Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK party emerged as the third-biggest force in the national parliament after May elections.