A court in India has rejected a plea for bail by the imprisoned former chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, Jayaram Jayalalitha. The Karnataka High Court said it found no reason to suspend her conviction.
Jayalalitha, one of India’s most colourful and controversial politicians, was jailed last month for four years on corruption charges.
In a case that lasted 18 years, she was found guilty of amassing unaccounted-for wealth of more than $10m (£6.1m).
Her AIADMK party named finance minister O Panneerselvam as her successor and he was sworn in as chief minister last week.
India’s 24-hour news channels ensured it was an emotional roller coaster for diehard supporters of Jayalalitha.
Party cadres had gathered near her residence in Chennai anticipating she would win bail. Another crowd of nearly 1,500 supporters were at party headquarters.
The faithful had come to celebrate with fireworks and sweets. When TV channels started reporting that Jayalalitha had been granted conditional bail, a jubilant crowd roared “Long Live Puratchi Thalaivi (Revolutionary Leader)”. Gleeful state ministers were seen sporting wide grins – one even danced for joy.
There were similar scenes elsewhere in Tamil Nadu – but the happiness of the leaders’ supporters was short-lived. Within 20 minutes, it turned out the channels had got it wrong and bail had been denied.
Outraged cadres began venting their ire against the media. As disappointment and anger mounted, ministers left the venue one by one. Reporters who were covering the scene from party headquarters quietly removed their ID cards and slipped away as a pall of gloom descended.
Rejecting Jayalalitha’s plea for bail on Tuesday, Justice AV Chandrasekhar said “corruption violates human rights as it leads to economic disparity”.
Jayalalitha held the “highest post” in the state and committed “a very serious crime” which “is not a small offence”, the judge added.
The BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi says most observers had expected the bail application to fail – the prosecution had initially opposed it in writing.
But in a dramatic about-turn, prosecutors then dropped their objections – it was not immediately clear why – and Jayalalitha’s lawyers came out flashing victory signs, prompting cheering from her supporters outside the court and in her home state.
For a short time, it appeared that she was about to be granted bail – until Justice Chandrasekhar surprised everyone again by turning down the plea.
Within minutes, her supporters had stopped celebrating, many beating their chests and weeping loudly.
“This is totally frustrating. I feel like committing suicide. How can they do this to Amma? Why did they first say bail has been granted and went back on it?” one weeping cadre in AIADMK headquarters, Ravindran, told BBC Tamil.
Security was tight in the southern city of Bangalore, where the Karnataka High Court is located. A large number of Jayalalitha’s supporters are in the city to show solidarity for their leader.
Known by her followers as Amma or Mother, Jayalalitha inspires intense loyalty, even adoration. Thousands of her party workers have held emotional meetings and prayers for her release.
The flamboyant former film star has a huge following in Tamil Nadu, which neighbours Karnataka.