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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 21, May 16, 2015

Modi in China, Jayalalithaa’s Acquittal

Saturday 16 May 2015, by SC


PM Narendra Modi began his first official visit to China yesterday and held talks with the Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping, in Xian, the Chinese head of state’s home town, today. Apart from visiting pagodas, temples and the famous terracota museum in Xian, the PM’s discussions with his hosts are learnt to have been held in a cordial atmosphere and were marked by candour with even the boundary issue figuring in the talks besides such subjects as Chinese investments in India and reduction of the trade deficit between the two states. No doubt this is perhaps the most forbidding and significant of Modi’s trips abroad and promises to unveil a new vista of Sino-Indian ties despite the manifold problems and challenges in the bilateral field that are mostly attributed to the historical legacy. How far the visit would succeed in giving a fresh impetus to bilateral relations only the future will tell but as of now there are no two opinions of the trip having begun on a positive note reinforcing hopes of evolving a new chapter of friendship between the two Asian giants leaving behind half-a-century of enmity, hostility, rancour and bitterness.

Meanwhile the Budget session of Parliament came to a close yesterday with as many as 24 Bills passed by both Houses in this session—the largest number in the past five years. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu claimed that this was the most productive session of the last decade in terms of time, the Lok Sabha having worked for 117 per cent of the scheduled time; the Rajya Sabha too slightly exceeded the allotted time with a productivity of 101 per cent. Both Houses unanimously passed the Consti-tution Amendment Bill for the operationalisation of the Land Boundary Agreement between India and Bangladesh and also adopted the Black Money Bill. [Interestingly CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury quipped in the Upper House that the “56-inch government” should take up the black money issue with the foreign governments with promptitude, while Finance Minister Arun Jaitley warned in the Rajya Sabha that the Black Money Bill would provide the last opportunity for those stashing black money in foreign banks to come out clean, but in case they didn’t, the government would came down heavily on them.] As for the controversial Land Acquisition Bill, the Centre was forced to send it to a Joint Committee of Parliament in the face of stiff resistance to its passage by the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. The GST Bill too has been referred to a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha.

The most important development of the last few days was the Karnataka High Court acquitting on May 11 AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa of all corruption and conspiracy charges in the Rs 66.6 crore disproportionate assets case. What is more, it even rebutted every single charge for which she had been convicted by a special court on September 27, 2014 and sentenced to a four-year prison term apart from hefty fines. This sensational development could well pave the way for Jayalalithaa’s return as the Tamil Nadu CM, the post from which she was compelled to step down following the special trial court verdict more than seven months ago.

Strikingly, one of the first congratulatory messages to reach Jayalalithaa after her acquittal in the case was from PM Narendra Modi. This was no surprise for the history of bonhomie between the two is well known to any diligent observer of the contemporary political scene. While Modi attended the AIADMK supremo’s swearing-in ceremony in Chennai on her assumption of the CM’s office in 2011 and Jayalalithaa reciprocated the gesture by attending Modi’s oath-taking ceremony in Gandhinagar after he was elected the Gujarat CM for the fourth time in 2012, she was the first non-BJP, non-NDA CM to support his prime ministerial candidature in 2013.

However, Special Public Prosecutor B.V. Acharya has opined that a “glaring arithmetical error” by the Karnataka High Court in computing the loans taken from banks by the AIADMK General Secretary and her aides and their firms had resulted in their acquittal, and claimed that correcting the error would boost the “disproportionate assets” component from a mere 8.12 per cent to a whopping 76.77 per cent. In the light of this view aired by the Special Public Prosecutor, the Congress Government of Karnataka is contemplating whether or not to challenge the HC judgment in the Supreme Court; but it is currently waiting for the Congress High Command’s permission to do so.

The Hindu, while noting the “resounding political victory” for Jayalalithaa in the wake of the Karnataka HC verdict, has also pointed out that

in view of the huge divergence that is apparent in the findings of the trial court and the High Court, it is vital that this matter be taken to the Supreme Court for an authoritative pronouncement on the issues involved. The highest court’s last word on this issue would be a crucial acknowledgement of the intensity of public concern over probity of politicians in high office.

This opinion is bound to gain increasing credence in the days ahead. Hence it is best to wait and watch how the situation develops before rushing to convey one’s final observations on the subject.

May 14 S.C.

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