The judge also acquitted Jayalalithaa's three co-convicts who too were sentenced to four years in jail and fined Rs.10 crore each. They included close aide Sasikala Natarajan. The lower court was told to release Jayalalithaa's confiscated assets.
"The judgement signifies that justice has won," said Jayalalithaa, who stepped down as chief minister after her earlier conviction. "It is not a victory for me but a victory for justice." Within minutes of the judgement, AIADMK leaders, including Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, rushed to Jayalalithaa's residence. Outside and all over Chennai and Tamil Nadu, boisterous celebrations erupted.
Political analyst Gnani Shankaran told IANS that the judgement would place Jayalalithaa on a strong wicket ahead of the 2016 elections in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK may even go for a snap election, he said.
AIADMK sources said Jayalalithaa was set to return as Tamil Nadu's chief minister. By law, she will have to get elected to the assembly within six months after becoming the chief minister.
The sources told IANS that Jayalalithaa would be sworn in before May 20. However, the exact date is not known with several dates floating around. DMK leader and former chief minister M. Karunanidhi raised questions about the judgement.
Bharatiya Janata Party MP Subramanian Swamy, who enjoys frosty ties with the AIADMK leader, threatened to appeal against the verdict. None of this made any difference to the mass of Jayalalithaa supporters all across Tamil Nadu who burst firecrackers, danced, whistled, gave away sweets and kept shouting "Long Live Amma". AIADMK cadres had been waiting with bated breath for the court decision. A pleased Jayalalithaa thanked everyone who prayed for her acquittal.
Expressing her pain that 237 people committed suicide after the trial court's verdict convicting her, she said they too could have been part of the celebrations now if they had shown the patience. Said AIADMK spokesperson C.R. Saraswathi: "It is a victory for justice. It was a case foisted on her." This is not the first time Jayalalithaa has been convicted and later acquitted. In 2000, a trial court sentenced her to jail terms of three years and two years in two cases. In 2001, she stepped down as chief minister following a Supreme Court verdict which held that she cannot hold the office after being convicted for criminal offences. However, in 2002, Jayalalithaa again became the chief minister after being acquitted by the Madras High Court. She was later elected from Andipatti constituency. Meanwhile, industry officials are heaving a sigh of relief on the expectations that Jayalalithaa would be back at the helm and start cracking on projects. The Rs.15,000 crore metro rail project is expected to start rolling as it is ready. Similarly, several new buses are waiting to be flagged off by her. Further the prestigious Global Investors Meet that has been postponed twice is expected to held this September.