EPS can't win, nor can Dinakaran. Is Tamil Nadu headed for Prez Rule?
Tamil Nadu seems to be heading for President's Rule, after 19 MLAs from the camp of deposed deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran withdrew support from the Edappadi K Palaniswami government.
After receiving individual letters from the 19 rebel MLAs that have “lost trust” in the Chief Minister, Governor C Vidyasagar Rao flew to Mumbai (he is also the Governor of Maharashtra) to let the fluid situation crystallise.
However, his action has come under criticism from Pattali Makkal Katchi leader S Ramadoss as “shocking”. Ramadoss has demanded that Rao should immediately call the Assembly and ask the government to prove its majority.
This is also the line adopted by the main Opposition party, the DMK, as well as the Congress too. While DMK working president MK Stalin has said any delay in calling the Assembly will lead to horse-trading, Congress legislature party leader KR Ramasamy has written to the Governor that as the government’s strength has fallen to 114 in the 233-member Assembly, the Chief Minister should seek a confidence vote, as per the parameters set out by the Supreme Court in the SR Bommai case.
The apex court had said in that judgment that the majority of a government should be tested on the floor of the Assembly, and not on the lawns of the Raj Bhavan.
If the floor test is taken, the government is bound to lose, as the 19 legislators are determined to vote against it.
H Raja, national secretary of the BJP, said the government could get the dissident MLAs disqualified, in which case the Assembly's strength will correspondingly come down, and EPS can sail through.
But disqualification of an MLA under the anti-defection law is an elaborate process. It can be set in motion only after the MLAs defy the party whip and vote against the government. But once they do so, the damage will already have been done. Expulsion ahead of the vote will also not help, as they will retain their membership of the House.
Moreover, an Assembly Speaker's decision on disqualification can be questioned in court. .
Politically, there will be no need for EPS to crack the whip on the rebels if he survives the vote. Rather, his priority will be to wean them away from the Dinakaran camp.
The EPS government has survived so long with the support of 122 MLAs, many of whom are loyalists of jailed party general secretary VK Sasikala. The CM himself was a Sasikala nominee, who defied her and her nephew Dinakaran only after the latter threatened to topple the government.
Why has Dinakaran acted now?
Dinakaran has acted now, not because the Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam factions have merged, and the united AIADMK has threatened to remove Sasikala from the post of general secretary. He did so because just the other day, Sasikala had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a review of the judgement convicting her, along with late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, in the disproportionate assets case. On Wednesday, this petition was dismissed.
Knowing that the apex court rarely reviews its own judgement, she had only sought abatement of sentence, as has been done to Jayalalithaa upon her death. That contention did not hold, as she is very much alive.
Even if the apex court had reduced her sentence from four years, it would have meant little politically, because her disqualification from running for public office for six years will come into effect only at the end of her jail term.
Though the general secretaryship of the AIADMK is not a public office, the dismissal of her petition has weakened the hands of Dinakaran. This is why he had decided to crack the whip before the reunited AIADMK government was able to consolidate its position.
An impractical dream
Dinakaran has taken care to assure the MLAs that their five-year terms will be protected, as his aim is to topple EPS and install Speaker S Dhanapal as CM in his place. But this is naïve, as any action against the CM amounts to action against his government.
Of course, the party retains the right to change its leader mid-term, but that can only be done at the party level, and the government needs to be re-formed from scratch under a new leader. Therefore, if Dhanapal is to be projected as an alternative, the present government has to go. Even then, he will have to be elected leader by the AIADMK legislature party.
Now that the EPS and OPS have come together, Dinakaran is in a hopeless position within the legislature party, and his dream is not in the realm of practical politics.
To protect the 19 dissident MLAs, he has taken them to Puducherry and put up them in a posh resort. His uncle and Sasikala's brother V Divaharan has said “22 MLAs are with us, and another eight are in my house”.
They can bring down the government with a dozen MLAs or so. But an alternative is not feasible. The united AIADMK has 133 MLAs in the 233-member House. Besides it has three MLAs who have won on the two leaves symbol. The Opposition the DMK and its allies have 98. There is no way the dissident MLAs can join the DMK, as it will amount to political suicide.
Stalin himself is not for heading any such unsteady, unprincipled coalition. He would rather see this government go and face the election, as he had done remarkably well in the last election, even though Jayalalithaa was around.
Therefore, the only option before the Governor will be to recommend President's Rule, if the government is not able induce the rebels back into its fold.
After MG Ramachandran's death in 1987, the AIADMK had split into the Jayalalithaa and Janaki factions, which had indulged in the same kind of 'resort' politics. However, Janaki's ministry lasted a mere 13 days, and President's Rule was imposed.
History is set to repeat itself.