“It will have no political bearing on the fortunes of our party or our leader.”

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is not expected to respond immediately to the ruling of the Supreme Court on her failure to file income tax returns. But senior AIADMK leaders made it amply clear that the order “will have no political bearing on the fortunes of our party or our leader.” “Amma has faced more serious political and legal battles, and this is nothing compared to them” is their refrain.

The crux of the argument of some advocates is that the case was pending trial and Ms. Jayalalithaa has not been held guilty by the court. Mere failure to file I-T returns is more a technical offence than criminal, unless it is proved that there was a wilful attempt to avoid liability, the advocates say.

None of the major political parties has made this an issue. Even DMK president M. Karunanidhi refused to comment, saying it was a matter between the court and Ms. Jayalalithaa. The BJP and Left parties too do not want to comment on record or make much of the case. A BJP leader accused the UPA, and the Congress in particular, of trying to curb her ascendancy by clamping new cases.

V.S. Jayakumar, a senior advocate who handles I-T cases, pointed out that since the Income Tax Act came into existence in 1961, only three persons have been prosecuted in Tamil Nadu. Though the penal provisions Act prescribed imprisonment, such punishments are very rare.

Senior advocate I. Subramanian is of the view that the case is more technical than criminal.

The issue will become serious only when the failure to file I-T returns is to avoid liability and defraud the government.

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