As she spends her first few days in prison, the question that could determine former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa's future is whether has she has actually learnt any lessons from her past.

As a party, Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam excels in displaying reverence to its leader. So the scenes of mourning when her replacement, O. Pannerselvam, was sworn in as chief minister in Chennai on Monday was quite expected, as was that of her ministers queuing up outside the prison in Bangalore to see her.

However, her first few signals from prison seem to be reflecting a reasonable degree of political maturity. According to prison officials, who requested anonymity, "Jayalalithaa refused to meet Paneerselvam as she felt that it would not be appropriate for a convict to meet with a chief minister.

Token gestures

Despite such gestures, given her control over the AIAMDK and the fact that the party revolves entirely around her, Jayalalithaa will remain chief minister  in the eyes of the people, administration and her party . "This will be categorically reinforced by the administration and will get more pronounced as days go by," according to senior official in Tamil Nadu, who requested anonymity.

One of the key concerns is how the administration will respond to this situation. Tamil Nadu has a history of the administration being used to settle political scores between Jayalalithaa and her arch rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam President M Karunanidhi.

Each time one of the two parties lose power, top bureaucrats are transferred and cases of corruption have been filed against leaders of the opposition party. One extreme example of "vendetta politics" was the midnight arrest of M Karunanidhi in 2001, in a case of corruption.

"Jayalalithaa had gifted away to the opposition a platform after arresting Karunanidhi in such a brazen manner," said RK Radhakrishnan of Frontline magazine.

This is why officials are keenly watching how she will deal with the DMK this time around, especially as her time in jail is seen by the AIADMK as "emotionally disturbing and an insult", according to a senior police officer, who requested anonymity.

The DMK has been at the forefront of the disproportionate assets case in which Jayalalithaa was convicted. The case was filed after her infamous first tenure as Chief Minister between 1991 and 1996, when she had allegedly amassed hundreds of crores of rupees and lavished some of her wealth on the extravagant wedding of her foster son VN Sudhakaran, who she subsequently disowned. He has also been convicted in the same case and sentenced to four years in prison.

For the DMK, Jayalalithaa's conviction is a huge triumph. After all, the party president's daughter Kanimozhi Karunanidhi is herself accused in the 2G scam. The party had performed dismally in the last assembly election in 2011 and the Lok Sabha election in 2014 and hopes to use this verdict as a platform for recovery.

Opposition strategy

Being accused of corruption in the 2G scam, the DMK is not in a position to turn Jayalalithaa's conviction by itself into a political issue, but the party is expected to constantly "keep the pressure on the administration and provoke Jayalalithaa's anger", according to senior party leaders.

In this context, given that some officials and bureaucrats in Tamil Nadu will go to any lengths to prove their loyalty to her, Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK would constantly be tempted to take action against DMK leaders. "The moment she does that, the DMK will turn it into a political issue of a witch hunt and that is what will become an electoral issue against her," say officials who have worked closely with Jayalalithaa.

Will she fall for it ? The answer to that could well determine her future.

Legally, the AIADMK Chief is in a difficult position. Her best hope is to seek bail from the Karnataka High Court. The case is expected to drag on for a long time so she is unlikely to get a verdict in time to contest the 2016 assembly elections.

Bouncing back

However, her political position is supreme, reiterated by the decisive victory in the parliamentary elections in which her party won 37 of the state's 39 seats. Veteran commentator Cho Ramaswamy has also pointed out that she will gain "sympathy from the people" after the arrest. In this situation, she will have to learn and get used to being a "proxy Chief Minister" who controls the government.

Jayalalithaa has been known to bounce back from the most unlikely situations. Her most stunning recovery came in 1996, when she was decimated in the assembly and parliamentary elections and even lost her own seat.

This time, though, her challenge is to ensure that she does not begin losing ground immediately after this verdict.