In what could be either a major setback or a much-needed shot in the arm for the ruling dispensation, the Madras High Court is set to decide the future of 11 MLAs, including Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam.
The AIADMK’s factional war following the death of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa is still haunting the party, eight months after their merger in August last year.
In February 2017, OPS resigned from the post of CM and went on to rebel against then AIADMK General Secretary VK Sasikala, who was later jailed following her conviction in the Disproportionate Assets case. Following her conviction by the Supreme Court, Sasikala had named Edappadi Palaniswami as the Chief Minister.
On February 19, 2017, a no confidence motion was moved against CM Edappadi Palaniswami. With the DMK being evicted from the Assembly before the vote and other opposition parties walking out, EPS won the vote with a comfortable 122: 11 margin. This meant that OPS and 10 of his supporting MLAs voted against their own party.
Not missing the opportunity to point this out, the principle opposition DMK filed a petition in the Madras High Court seeking to disqualify the 11 AIADMK MLAs for going against the orders of the party whip.
The DMK whip R Sakkarapani, who filed the writ petition in September, stated that OPS and his team's actions were against the laws mandated under Tamil Nadu Legislative(Disqualification on ground of Defection) Rules of 1986.
He also said that the MLAs' actions were not condoned by the party. According to the 1986 Rules, the defying MLA has to inform the Speaker within 30 days of the vote if they had been condoned by their party.
Sakkarapani also noted that Coimbatore North MLA Arun Kumar had abstained without the explicit permission of his party.
The DMK also pointed out that one of the MLAs, Mafoi Pandiarajan, had himself moved the Supreme Court on the validity of the no confidence motion. Pandiarajan had petitioned the SC over the voice vote that took place, as opposed to a secret ballot.
Rejecting the premise of the charges, OPS and his MLAs have maintained that that there was no whip to issue directions. In February this year, the DMK countered these claims by providing the court with a copy of the affidavit filed by OPS to the Election Commission of India where he had reportedly stated that a whip had indeed issued instructions telling the party to vote in favour of EPS.
The 11 MLAs facing the axe today are: O Panneerselvam of Bodinayakanur, Mafoi Pandiarajan of Avadi, Aarukutty of Kavundampalayam, Shanmuganathan of Srivaikuntam, Manickam of Cholavandan, Manoharan of Vasudevanallur, Manoranjitham of Uthangarai, Saravanan of Madurai South, Semmalai of Mettur, Chinnaraj of Mettupalayam and R Nataraj of Mylapore.
If the MLAs are disqualified, the EPS-led Tamil Nadu government can fall.
The TN Assembly has 234 legislators. The DMK and its allies have 98 MLAS. The AIADMK had won 134 seats in the 2016 Assembly Elections, and then won 3 more in the bye-polls in November that year. Following Jayalalithaa’s demise, her RK Nagar seat was won by Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran, who contested as an Independent MLA in December last year.
Excluding the Speaker, the AIADMK on paper has 135 seats. However, following the disqualification of 18 MLAs, who pledged support to Dhinakaran, the AIADMK’s MLA strength stands at 117. 3 MLAs who contested under the AIADMK symbol have remained non-committal, bringing down the AIADMK’s numbers to 114. If 11 MLAs are disqualified, this will reduce AIADMK to 103, well short of the magic number of 117.