Veda Nilayam, the home of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in Chennai’s upmarket Poes Garden and a hub of political activity for over 25 years, is in the news again.
On November 24, the Madras High Court quashed the previous AIADMK government’s decision to acquire the property of the late leader for converting it into a memorial. Its judgment was based on several grounds, one of which was that the acquisition “cannot be said to involve a ‘public purpose’ in law.” On December 10, Chennai Collector J. Vijaya Rani handed over the keys to the residence to J. Deepa and J. Deepak , niece and nephew of Jayalalithaa and children of her only sibling, Jayakumar [who died in 1995]. Ms. Deepa and her husband then promptly visited Veda Nilayam to take possession of the property. Five days later, the Court permitted the AIADMK to implead itself in the case , challenging the Court’s verdict.
It all began with the demand by sections of the party to turn Veda Nilayam into a memorial after Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016. In the run-up to the August 2017 unification of two groups led by O. Panneerselvam and Edappadi K. Palaniswami, both former Chief Ministers and now co-ordinator and co-coordinator, respectively, the former had even made it a condition for the unification. Mr. Palaniswami, then in power, had obliged his predecessor by making an announcement. But Mr. Deepa and Mr. Deepak opposed the move to acquire the property. In May 2020, Mr. Palaniswami got a law enacted to establish a foundation to run the affairs of the memorial, which was to display 8,376 books belonging to Jayalalithaa, among other things.
Ms. Deepa and Mr. Deepak had every reason to be sentimental about Veda Nilayam which was jointly purchased in July 1967 by their aunt, Jayalalithaa, and grandmother, Sandhya, who had acted in many feature films, for about ₹1.32 lakh. Before her death in November 1971, Sandhya had, through a will, bequeathed her share of the property to her daughter. Jayalalithaa’s niece and nephew had even submitted before the High Court in a case on their status of being legal heirs that they were “born and brought up” at the Poes Garden residence. They also had the legal backing to stake claim, being the former Chief Minister’s only legal heirs. In May 2020, the High Court clarified that they were the legal heirs as per the Hindu Succession Act and were entitled to succeed to Jayalalithaa’s estate, modifying their original status as Class II legal heirs.
After visiting the house for the first time following the death of her aunt, Ms. Deepa said she wanted to make Veda Nilayam her home. However, she complained that “many elements in the home are missing.” More importantly, in the light of Veda Nilayam being attached by the Income Tax Department since March 2007, the legal heirs have to settle first Jayalalithaa’s tax liabilities, which, according to the acquisition award of July 2020, accounted for about ₹36.8 crore. The Land Acquisition Officer had calculated the amount of compensation as nearly ₹68 crore for the acquisition.
The AIADMK, which is keen on turning the property into a memorial, has sought the cooperation of Ms. Deepa and Mr. Deepak in the matter. Also, what is little known is the plan of V.K. Sasikala, who served as Jayalalithaa’s aide for over 25 years and functioned as interim general secretary of the party briefly after the death of the former Chief Minister. In August 2020, her property, an under-construction structure and situated across Veda Nilayam, was attached by the IT authorities under the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act, 2016.
Regardless of what happens next, Veda Nilayam is certain to be in the news for many years to come.