Money-for-vote scam rocks TN Assembly, DMK members evicted
When the Budget session of the Tamil Nadu Assembly resumed on Wednesday, it got off to a stormy start.
Speaker P Dhanapal evicted members of the Opposition DMK en masse, after they held up the proceedings to press for an inquiry into an allegation that MLAs were offered money by the Sasikala faction of the AIADMK to support the Edapaddi Palaniswami government in the confidence motion in February.
How things unfolded
As soon as the House convened, DMK members, holding placards reading 'MLAs for sale', pressed for a CBI inquiry into a sting operation by a private television channel.
In the sting, pro-O Panneerselvam legislator SS Saravanan alleged that MLAs put up in Koovathur beach resort were offered bribes ranging from Rs one crore to 10 crore to vote in favour of the Palaniswami government.
Leader of the Opposition MK Stalin, who raised the issue, demanded a probe. Speaker Dhanapal refused permission, saying the matter was sub judice, as a petition filed by Stalin was pending in the Madras High Court.
In the petition, Stalin had questioned the trust vote which the government won after MLAs were sequestered in the resort, and brought from there to the House in separate escorted vehicles.
Rejecting Stalin's demand, the Speaker recalled the member concerned had denied the allegation attributed to him. He recalled that when the Niira Radia tapes issue was sought to be raised in Parliament, the Lok Sabha Speaker had disallowed it on the grounds that an unverified tape could not be raised in the House.
But Stalin persisted with the demand, and DMK members raised slogans and held up proceedings for nearly 45 minutes. The Speaker then named all the 85 MLAs present in the House, and ordered their eviction.
In protest, six Congress members and the lone All India Muslim League member walked out.
In a House bereft of Opposition, commercial taxes minister KC Veeramani then moved the GST Bill. It will be taken up for discussion in the coming days.
The DMK protest spilled onto the streets, with Stalin and his MLAs sitting on a dharna outside the Assembly complex. They were taken into custody and put up in a marriage hall.
Stalin told reporters: “This government has lost its legitimacy after this sting operation and it should go.”
The sting operation was carried out by Moon TV, a Tamil television channel. It showed Saravanan, an MLA from Madurai claiming that he was among the group of over 100 MLAs who were taken to Koovathur resort, and were offered bribes ranging from one crore to ten crore. Ultimately, no money changed hands, as their handlers told them that they had no ready cash, and instead, they would offer gold.
Saravanan said given the fact that AIADMK legislators were known for their herd mentality, there was no need to have herded them like this at a resort, as they would have obeyed Sasikala's diktat even otherwise.
He claimed that he later escaped from the resort and joined the O Panneerselvam camp.
As soon as this video was screened, Panneerselvam summoned Saravanan for an explanation. He later told reporters that the video was fake. However, he said: “It's me on the video. But the voice is not mine. It is a dubbed voice.”
He denied remarks attributed to him the video in regards to MLAs Thamimum Ansari, Karunas and Thaniyarasu. He said he had never seen Moon TV reporter Shah Nawaz. The TV reporter, however, stuck to his story.
Meanwhile, the DMK has moved the Madras High Court for a CBI inquiry and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) into the charge that MLAs put up at the Koovathur resort were offered bribes.
Senior counsel R Shanmughasundaram mentioned before Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar that he be permitted to file a miscellaneous petition on behalf of Stalin, and it be clubbed with a PIL already filed by him, in which he had sought a direction to the Speaker to conduct a fresh test as the first one was legally flawed. The bench said it would it take up on Friday.
While the DMK is exploiting the issue to the hilt, the sting operation has not brought to light anything new, except the general allegation that MLAs were lured with the offer of money. Nothing specific was mentioned, nor any MLA was mentioned as having received any payoff.
As DMK members were evicted only for the day, they are expected to raise the issue again when the House meets on Thursday. If they are evicted three times in a session, they can be barred for the remainder of the session.