India’s Supreme Court has convicted the head of the ruling party in Tamil Nadu state of corruption, ending her attempts to become chief minister.
Sasikala Natarajan was an aide of late chief minister Jayalalitha.
Though she has never held public office, the ruling AIADMK party said last week that she would be the southern state’s next chief minister.
But the state was plunged into uncertainty after the acting chief minister revolted against her.
Indian law bars convicts in corruption cases from contesting an election for a period of six years after completing a jail sentence.
Tuesday’s ruling against Sasikala brought a four-year jail sentence, meaning she will not be able to run for office for 10 years.
The corruption case, dating back to 1996, centred on accusations that Sasikala held assets disproportionate to her known sources of income. Jayalalitha was also accused of the same offence.
The case was tried in neighbouring Karnataka state and the defendants were convicted in 2014, but later acquitted on appeal, a decision which the Supreme Court has now reversed.
Jayalalitha, one of India’s most influential and colourful politicians, died in December, before a final verdict was reached.
The court ordered Sasikala to surrender immediately to authorities in Karnataka, where she will serve her prison sentence.
The verdict is a big blow to Sasikala, who was claiming the support of a majority of Tamil Nadu’s lawmakers to become chief minister.
She has been shut away in a resort along with more than 100 legislators, trying to consolidate her support. Indian media reports say police have entered the resort to arrest her.
Acting Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who alleges he was forced to resign to make way for Sasikala, is likely to now stake a claim for the post.
Images from Chennai (Madras) showed supporters of Mr Panneerselvam celebrating the verdict. News of Sasikala’s appointment as the chief minister had also generated outrage on the ground.
Never given any formal role by Jayalalitha in the party or the state government, Sasikala’s role was always that of aide and confidante.
But analysts say her proximity to power allowed her and her extended family to wield huge influence.
Sasikala’s influence over Jayalalitha also became the source of intense media speculation and tabloid gossip.