The Madras High Court is expected to deliver its judgment on Thursday on the disqualification of 18 dissident AIADMK legislators belonging to TTV Dinakaran faction by Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P Dhanapal after they revolted against the Edappadi K Palanisamy Government in August last year.
The verdict will decide the fate of the Edappadi Government which came into being in February 2017 after the present Deputy Chief Minister O Pannerselvam, who took over as Chief Minister upon the passing of his predecessor J Jayalalitha on Dec 4 2016, resigned on Feb 5 under pressure from her controversial aide V K Sasikala.
Sasikala got Edappadi Government installed with the support of 122 sequestered MLAs as her attempt to assume power fell apart after she was convicted by the Supreme Court in the disproportionate assets case by the Supreme Court and was sent to serve a four-year jail term in the Bengaluru jail. Before going to jail, she made her nephew TTV Dinakaran as deputy general secretary.
The Edappadi Government won the confidence of the House in February 2017 with the support of these 122 MLAs. However, 11 MLAs belonging to O Pannerselvam faction voted against. The 90 DMK members were evicted en masse following a ruckus in the House while the eight Congress MLAs and the lone All India Muslim League member voted against.
When Dinakaran, upon his victory from the R K Nagar constituency, tried to take over from Edappadi, the Chief Minister on the advice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, merged his faction with the rival Pannerselvam group to stave the challenge.
Accordingly, in August that year, the general council of the party abolished the post of party general secretary to free the party from the clutches of Sasikala. The general council also expelled Dinakaran from the party.
Dinakaran hit back by making his 18 supporting legislators petition the Governor to change the Chief Minister. Swiftly, Speaker K Dhanapal, on a complaint from the AIADMK whip, took cognizance of this development and disqualified them. But the Speaker took no action against the Pannerselvam group. He has since become Deputy Chief Minister and he and Edappadi are running the party as coordinator and joint coordinator in the absence of a general secretary.
The DMK moved the High Court for a direction to the Speaker to act on petition filed by Dinakaran supporters to disqualify the Pannerselvam supporters while acting fast and disqualifying the 18 rebel legislators of the Dinakaran group to what Congress counsel Kapil Sibal called a biased move to “convert minority into majority”.
It however modified the petition as whether a writ of mandamus can be issued against a Speaker who does not take any action on disqualification plea is pending in the Supreme Court.
The dissident MLAs, represented by Vettrivel have challenged their disqualification.
In the case of Pannerselvam and 10 other supporters, the high court said it cannot give a direction to the Speaker to take a decision as it would make the case pending before the Supreme Court infructuous and amount to judicial overreach. Accordingly, it dismissed the connected petitions in April.
However, as the Speaker has taken a decision on the disqualification of the 18 dissidents, it subject to court’s scrutiny.
The first bench comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quodhos, has to decide whether the disqualification of the 18 dissident MLAs is right.
Though the original strength of the House is 234, the Jayalalitha’s seat was vacant till it was filled by Dinakaran by winning from R K Nagar. However, the effective strength is only 216 after the disqualification of 18 rebels. The Government has only 111 MLAs on its side.
If the disqualification of these MLAs is set aside, the strength of the House will go up to 234 and the half way mark will be 117.
The DMK will immediately petition the Governor for a floor test which has so far been kept in abeyance because of the interim order of the high court pending decision on the disqualification issue.
Even if the disqualification of these MLAs is upheld, the beleaguered Government will still be in trouble as it will have to face 18 by-elections. Either way its fate will be sealed.
If the decision goes against the Government, the Speaker can seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court and plead for an interim stay of the judgment till then.
The Principal Secretary of the DMK, Durai Murugan, has said the days of the Edappadi K Palanisamy Government are numbered.