There is an insurmountable wall separating actual guilt and moral responsibility. The former is a stigma concerning the actual and proven transgression of a law. The latter is a breach of a convention and a deviation from an accepted code of behaviour. After the verdict of the Supreme Court, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms J. Jayalalithaa, can see herself as being not guilty in the Tansi land deal cases. This acquittal will provide Ms Jayalalithaa and her supporters with enormous relief since a verdict of guilty would have ended her political career. This particular case has advanced from court to court; there was an acquittal in the Madras high court previous to this judgment by the apex court. It is difficult, at the moment, to predict what this favourable legal outcome will signify in terms of Ms Jayalalithaa’s political fortunes. But the Supreme Court’s decision provides hope that corruption cases against politicians and public servants will be disposed of as fast as possible without any undue interference and influence from the powers that be. Justice, as the saying goes, should be blind to influence and the stature of the person being tried.
The full awareness of the Supreme Court about the implications and ramifications of the case is obvious from the comments that the learned judges made in the course of their judgment. The two judges, Mr S. Rajendra Babu and Mr P. Venkatarama Reddi, were emphatic that Ms Jayalalithaa had broken more than one very important code of conduct. First, there is a code of conduct which lays down that a public servant should not purchase government property. Second, the chief minister had hindered the course of justice in order to save herself from conviction. She had even denied her signature on documents. Fortunately for Ms Jayalalithaa, a code of conduct does not carry statutory force and therefore is not enforceable in a court of law. If, in strict legal terms, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu was declared innocent, the words of the judges carried a completely different kind of condemnation. They condemned Ms Jayalalithaa for behaving in a manner ill befitting her office. She had acted upon the assumption that there was one set of laws for ordinary public servants and another for a chief minister. The question might well be asked whether a person holding such an assumption should hold high office in a democracy. The court has appealed to Ms Jayalalithaa’s conscience. If conscience drove politicians, then the character of Indian politics would have been very different. Ms Jayalalithaa is blessed with an excess of a lot of things, but conscience is not one of them.