The year was 2005, and for legal correspondents such as me, these were exciting times. A special court had been set up at the City Civil Complex in Bengaluru, (then Bangalore) to try former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case. I was working with a newspaper at that time and since I covered the high court, this assignment was bound to come to me.
The Supreme Court had transferred the case to Bengaluru after the DMK complained that a fair trial would not take place in Tamil Nadu. The court was set up and all we knew was just that. One day at around 8.30 pm, after having filed the routine high court stories, I was able to set out when one of my colleagues called to tell me someone had called me on the landline -- yes the landline!
A man with a gruff voice told me that he was one of the officers in the special court. He told me that the judge had issued summons to Jayalalithaa and this indicated that the trial was about to start.
This was indeed big news, and in my excitement to pull off an 'exclusive' I asked the officer two questions: (1) Have you told anyone else? And (2) Why have you called me? He responded by saying thsat (a) No, he had not called anyone else and (b) He had called me because he is an ardent fan of the newspaper was I working for. After the mandatory cross verification of the news, it went to print. A week later, I was at the special court to cover the trial along with my friend, who I will call KP.
I recollected that day on Tuesday before the Supreme Court was to deliver its final verdict in the case. My heart was in my mouth; my hands sweaty, I was excitement personified This was big and it was the trial of one of the most high-profile politicians in the country taking place in my city.
When Jaya was paid 5,000 to perform
Never before had I witnessed such frenzy in my life. To witness all this in a court hall was unheard of as we consider courts as temples of justice. I was nervous for another reason as a story on the fact that Jayalalithaa was not litigating for the first time in the state had not appeared in my newspaper.
The period was around mid-70s, Jaya, then an actor, had been paid Rs 5,000 advance by Karnataka to perform at the Dasara celebrations at Mysuru. She however wanted to perform before Hema Malini, the reigning 'megastar' of the time, and when the organisers refused, she left and didn't returned the advance amount. This prompted the Karnataka government to file a case against her. The case was however settled amicably. I wrote the long-forgotten story, and her agitated lawyers even asked where they could find the author (of the original story) to which I said he has not yet arrived.
Before the trial commenced, we saw a Tata Sumo packed with advocates. What amazed us was that the wind-shield had a gigantic photo of Amma which prompted us to ask, "How on earth did they drive from Chennai with the wind-shield covered 3/4th?" Dedication does a lot I suppose.
Vakalath in blood:
As the lawyers barged into the court, we noticed is that they had Amma rings, Amma pens, her photographs etc. We were told that some had even signed the vakalath (a document which authorises the lawyer on behalf of the client) in blood to show their dedication towards their beloved leader! The court was nothing short of chaotic. All of us including the staff, the special public prosecutor and the judge watched in disbelief and somewhat resembling disgust.
Her supporters were pushy, noisy and to put in one word the meant "To hell with the decorum of the court!"
The judiciary in Karnataka is by and large a peaceful one. Never in the history had such scenes been witnessed. The judge even asked on numerous occasions why there were so many advocates in the court when only three would argue. That did not deter them and kept coming back to the court in larger numbers.
The chaos and commotion is something that a Karnataka court had never witnessed. Let us hope it never does in the future as well.