EPS govt safe? Speaker disqualifies 18 rebel AIADMK MLAs
The political tussle in Tamil Nadu took another turn Monday with Legislative Assembly Speaker S Dhanapal disqualifying 18 members and the Opposition crying foul over it.
On the ground, the Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) government now looks safe. But he still needs to bide time.
The Madras High Court, though, has already set Wednesday (20 September) for the next hearing of petitions on the subject. They have been filed by Opposition leader MK Stalin and S Vetrivel, who is among the 18 rebels of Anna All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Khagam (AIADMK).
Governor C Vidyasagar Rao is not expected to call for an Assembly session before Thursday (21 September) as the high court has asked the Assembly to not sit until the hearing.
Rao earlier refused to act on a petition by the rebel MLAs.
Why EPS looks safe
The disqualification will be with immediate effect, Tamil Nadu Assembly Secretary K Boopathy said. The 18 seats will now be declared vacant.
This has reduced the strength of the Assembly to 215 members, which brings the majority mark to 108 votes. Excluding the rebel votes, EPS still has 114 with him.
Of the 19 MLAs, seen to be of the TTV Dinakaran camp, one had returned to the government’s side.
The other 18 were disqualified by Dhanapal under Chapter 10 of the Constitution, (dealing with the Anti-defection Act).
This was based on a complaint from AIADMK whip S Rajendran that they defied his Whip by meeting Governor Rao on 22 Aug and withdrawing support from the government.
Vetrivel, however, said the Speaker Saturday sought some documents from him, but still went ahead and disqualified him.
The other rebels are in Kodagu, Karnataka, and haven’t met the Speaker.
The government was resorting to short-cuts to remain in power, Vetrivel alleged. The Speaker’s action will not stand judicial scrutiny as meeting the Governor can’t be construed as a defiance of whip, the Whip claimed.
Dinakaran, who wanted to pull down the government, will now have to activate what he called his “sleeper cell” – MLAs within the government to vote against it. But if EPS is seen to be winning, hardly any legislator will take a chance as their mandate runs till 2021.
The rebels can challenge the Speaker’s action in court. But given judicial delays, they can hardly expect any relief.
Stalin too said the Speaker’s action was illegal. What about the time when 10 members of the erstwhile O Pannerselvam faction voted against him in the last confidence vote in February, he asked.
He has called for a meeting of Dravida Munnetra Khazagam legislators on Tuesday evening.
Tamil Nadu Congress Committee President S Thirunavakkarasar agreed with Vetrivel that the Speaker could not act based on the conduct of MLAs outside the House. The disqualification was bound to be struck down in court, he said.
Legalities apart, it is advantage EPS now, with a proven majority of MLAs, member of Parliament and General Council members with it.
In neighbouring Karnataka, when nine BJP legislators met the then Governor in 2010 to withdraw support to the BS Yeddyurappa government, the Speaker disqualified them ahead of the vote. But the Supreme Court later quashed the Speaker’s order. The EPS Government, on the other hand, is relying on the Uttarakhand parallel: When Chief Minister Harish Rawat disqualified nine Congress MLAs in May 2016 ahead of floor test, the Supreme Court admitted their petition challenging their disqualification, but ruled they could not vote. The Speaker’s decision was later upheld by the apex court.
In a closer parallel, in Tamil Nadu in January 1987, Speaker PH Pandian disqualified dissident MLAs and evicted other Congress MLAs and declared that VN Janaki had won the confidence vote, though it had the support of only 95 members. Her government was dismissed the very next day, but that was before the ‘Bommai judgment’.
Edited by Joyjeet Das