Chennai: After a three-year roller-coaster ride, Tamil Nadu's ruling AIADMK hit almost a wall in its fourth year of governance when its general secretary and then chief minister J.Jayalalithaa was dethroned by a court verdict.
Till September 27, 2014, all was going well for Jayalalithaa, who had come to power for the third time on May 16, 2011.
She had led AIADMK to a stupendous victory in the April assembly polls, winning 203 of the state's 234 seats.
Before that, the government had won in the Supreme court a case against Kerala relating to the water storage level in the Mullaperiyar Dam.
This was an additional feather in the cap of state's earlier legal victories like forcing the central government to gazette the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal in February 2013, after decades of meandering.
The AIADMK government also bought five percent stake in Neyveli Lignite Corporation, thereby preventing the central government's plan to dilute its holding in favour of a private party.
In 2014, the 'Iron Lady of Tamil Nadu' practically reduced the oppostion to a non-entity at the centre by winning 37 out of 39 seats in the Lok Sabha. The opposition parties were in a state of disarray.
But on September 27 a trial court in Karnataka convicted her to a four year jail term and a fine of Rs.100 crore in the disproportionate assets case. It was as if a tornado had hit the AIADMK.
In face of the shocker, the Iron Lady kept her cool in public, but her members turned out to be far more brittle.
It was a pathetic combination of emotional distress and sycophancy that made O.Panneerselvam, who replaced Jayalalithaa as the chief minister, and his cabinet colleagues weep openly during the swearing-in ceremony.
Thereafter, Panneerselvam government's indecisiveness gave ammunition to the opposition parties to fire their guns at the ruling party.
It was the PMK that took the initiative to attack the government on various counts.
The suicide of an engineer, Muthukumarasamy, owing to alleged pressure from Agriculture Minister Agri S.S. Krishnamoorthy's office to appoint certain people as drivers cost the minister his job. It also gave the opposition another stick to beat the government with.
The government also twice postponed the much-expected Global Investors Meet after holding roadshows overseas and spending around Rs.100 crore on it.
Industry turned cautious about investing in the state because of the political drift.
The government seemed to have come to a standstill. The party and the ministers went into a prayer mode for their leader's acquittal.
This made the main opposition party, the DMK's heir apparent M.K. Stalin write an open letter to Panneerselvam."Tamil Nadu is in the ICU and its vital signs are a cause for extreme concern," he wrote.
DMK's ability to take advantage of the situation was hamstrung though, as their leaders were fighting the 2G telecom scam case. The Congress suffered a split with senior leader G.K. Vasan floating his own Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC). But the ruling BJP at the centre saw in the rudderless AIADMK an opportunity to leverage its position.
Interestingly, after her conviction, the AIADMK tried to sustain Jayalalithaa's public image by terming her the "people's" chief minister. And the government continued with her pet policies of providing freebies to the people.
Presenting the budget for 2015-16 Panneerselvam, who also holds the finance portfolio, said 95 lakh sets of electric fans, mixers and grinders were distributed during the first three years.
During 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, sanction had been accorded for distributing 45 lakh packages each year.
Moreover, 21.65 lakh laptops had been distributed free to students. The government allocated Rs.1,100 crores for this in the budget estimates.
Political pundits now say that after Jayalalithaa's acquittal will allow her to bounce back with additional force.
"With the court acquitting Jayalalithaa of all charges, there is nothing to stop the AIADMK juggernaut from rolling down on the opposition in the 2016 assembly elections," political analyst Gnani Sankaran had told IANS.
The AIADMK may even opt for snap elections before the end of this year to ride on the sympathy wave that has swelled in Jayalalithaa's favour, he said.
According to political observers, the AIADMK may go it alone in the assembly elections, as it did in the Lok Sabha elections.
The DMK may try to forge an alliance with parties other than the Congress and the BJP. But with its leaders - A. Raja, Kanimozhi and Dayanidhi Maran - under trial in the 2G scam, it would be difficult for the party to pose a serious challenge to the AIADMK.
It's only a matter of time, perhaps a few days, before Jayalalithaa takes on the mantle of the chief minister again.
But a shadow still lies across her future. The prosecution in the disproportionate case says that an "arithmetical error" had made the judge in Karnataka come to the wrong conclusion about here innocence. And that the Supreme Court is likely to reverse the judgement.
That is unclear at present. What is clear though, is that the Iron Lady is set to ride back to power, and make efforts to stay there for a long, long time.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)