Sasikala’s elevation to AIADMK Legislature Party head, and her bid for the CM’s post has put Governor Vidyasagar Rao in a dilemma. With the Supreme Court hinting at a verdict in less than a week, should he or should he not swear Sasikala in as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu?
While Vidyasagar Rao’s position is not enviable, the situation itself is not without precedent.
In fact, in 2001, the then Governor of Tamil Nadu, Fathima Beevi - the first woman judge of the Supreme Court - was in a similar situation. In May 2001, the AIADMK had won the state Assembly elections, although Jayalalithaa herself was barred from contesting the polls.
Jaya had been convicted in the TANSI land scam case in October 2000, and had been sentenced to two separate prison terms of 3 years and 2 years each. Accordingly, as per the Representation of People Act, she was disallowed from contesting elections for 6 years.
But barely 8 months after her conviction, Jayalalithaa was sworn in as the Chief Minister. She didn’t contest an election, and wouldn’t have been allowed to contest in the six months after her appointment either, but Governor Fathima Beevi invited her to become the CM.
Fathima Beevi had then invoked Article 164 of the Constitution, which allows a non-member of the state Legislature to become the Chief Minister, accepting Jayalalithaa’s claim that she had “the will of the people.”
But months later, in September 2001, Fathima Beevi was rapped by the Supreme Court for her reading of the Constitution in appointing Jayalalithaa as the CM.
The Court had said back then that Fathima Beevi’s appointment of Jayalalithaa while she was convicted went against the Constitution, because she wouldn’t have been able to contest an election within 6 months in order to complete the process of becoming Chief Minister.
While Fathima Beevi had quoted the “will of the people” as justification for her decision, the court had called it an “absurd interpretation” of the Constitution.
“Such a dangerous such an absurd interpretation of Article 164 has to be rejected out of hand. The Constitution prevails over the will of the people as expressed through the majority party. The will of the people as expressed through the majority party prevails only if it is in accord with the Constitution,” the apex court had said.
“That conviction and the sentence it carries operate against the accused in all their rigour until set aside in appeal, and a disqualification that attaches to the conviction and sentence applies as well,” said the court, slamming the then Governor for her hasty swearing in of Jayalalithaa.
Fathima Beevi, who had already resigned from the post of Governor following the row over Tamil Nadu police’s arrest of DMK Chief Karunanidhi, and Union Ministers Murasoli Maran and TR Baalu, defended her decision although the SC had already unseated Jaya from the Chief Minister’s post.
For Vidyasagar Rao though, this case will remain fresh in his memory as he considers the swearing in of Sasikala.
To be fair, the circumstances aren’t exactly the same. Jayalalithaa was a convict when she was sworn in by Fathima Beevi, while Sasikala is only an accused, having been acquitted by the Karnataka High Court in 2015 in the disproportionate assets case.
But with apparently just a week to go for the Supreme Court’s verdict in the case, a conviction or a remand (referral back to the Karnataka High Court) will automatically disqualify Sasikala from contesting an election in the next 6 years.
Whether he will take the risk of having to swear in two Chief Ministers in the span of a week, is up to the Governor now.