BANGALORE, India // Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram, one of India’s most colourful and controversial politicians, was replaced as head of a southern state on Sunday after she was jailed in a corruption case, reports said.
Jayalalithaa, 66, who enjoys a cult following in the southern state of Tamil Nadu that she has long governed, was jailed for four years on Saturday over the case, which has lasted nearly two decades.
A judge in the southern city of Bangalore found Jayalalithaa guilty of amassing illegal wealth – including gold, property, hundreds of shoes and thousands of saris – in the case, which she has always dismissed as being politically motivated.
She was set to spend her second night in Bangalore’s main jail on Sunday in an extraordinary transformation of fortunes for the woman known as “Amma” (Mother) to her fans, whose ministers have been known to prostrate themselves before her.
Jayalalithaa, who was also fined one billion rupees (Dh59 million), was automatically disqualified from holding office, although she is likely to still dominate her AIADMK party, the third biggest force in the national parliament.
She was replaced as Tamil Nadu chief minister on Sunday by her loyal finance minister, O Panneerselvam, following a party meeting, the Press Trust of India news agency (PTI) said.
Television footage showed Panneerselvam being mobbed by party supporters and the press as he left the meeting in the state capital Chennai.
Jayalalithaa earlier on Sunday held talks with top cadres from inside Bangalore jail to arrange the handover, a party official said on condition of anonymity.
“As our supremo, Jayalalithaa has advised cabinet colleagues and party leaders to convene a meeting of all lawmakers in Chennai later in the day and elect a leader to serve as our chief minister,” he said.
Jayalalithaa was charged in 1997, when police seized assets including 28 kilograms of gold, 750 pairs of shoes and more than 10,000 saris in a raid on her home in Chennai.
Prosecutors said her assets, which reportedly included two large estates in the lush tropical state she ran, were vastly disproportionate to her earnings during her first term as chief minister from 1991 to 1996.
Her lawyer said on Sunday he would appeal to the high court, seeking her release on bail, and separately press the court to order a stay on her conviction – a move that could overturn the ban.
“We will be filing a bail application in the Karnataka high court tomorrow,” Mr Kumar told PTI.
Fresh protests broke out on Sunday against the ruling in Chennai and Bangalore, where hundreds of mainly female supporters screamed, wailed and threw themselves on the ground.
“We will not move from here till we are allowed to meet Jayalalithaa as she is our Amma,” one sobbing woman said in Bangalore after police blocked the street march.
* Agence France-Press