Off with their memberships! AIADMK cracks the whip against rebels
Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P Dhanapal has sent a notice to 19 All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) legislators who have rebelled against Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. They have been asked to show cause within a week as to why they should not be disqualified for defecting.
The notice follows a petition given by AIADMK chief S Rajendran that these MLAs be disqualified as they have defied the whip by informing the Governor that they lost confidence in the chief minister.
Rajendran’s recommendation follows a consultation the chief minister had with the Speaker at the State Secretariat. Even as he was consulting the Speaker, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam had separate consultations with supporters of his erstwhile faction and lawyer Manoj Pandian.
Later, Panneerselvam joined Edappadi when he held a meeting with all ministers.
In his letter, Rajendran contended that by withdrawing the support to the government, the AIADMK legislators have defied the whip issued on 14 February when all 122 MLAs were directed to support the confidence motion moved by the chief minister.
He said that since then, there had been no fresh whip had been issued. Therefore, by unilaterally withdrawing support, “they have voluntarily given up membership” of the AIADMK. Their action amounts to defection under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, Rajendran argued.
“In my petition to the Speaker, I have cited Section 6 of the Members of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly (Disqualification on Ground of Defection) Rules, 1986 and urged him to disqualify the MLAs,” Rajendran said.
The rule Rajendran has cited refers to a member of the legislature petitioning the Speaker about disqualification. But an earlier section clearly says that if a member votes or abstains from voting, contrary to the direction given by a political party he belongs to, the leader of that party should inform the Speaker “within thirty days from the date of such voting and abstention, whether such voting or abstention has or has not been condoned by such political party, person or authority”.
More than six months after the trust vote, the AIADMK whip has invoked the rules to disqualify the rebels.
The supreme irony is that the 19 rebels were among the 122 who voted in support of the Edappadi government on 14 February. Eleven members of the OPS faction who voted against in defiance of the whip are now in the reunited party. And stranger still, Panneerselvam is the deputy chief minister.
Anticipating such a course of action, rebel legislator and prominent Dinakaran supporter P Vetrivel asked – “Where is the question of disqualifying us when no vote has taken place now?”.
Rajendran told reporters that a final call would be taken by the Speaker.
But, even if the Speaker decides to initiate action, it involves elaborate procedure. He will have to give an opportunity to the 19 rebels to explain their conduct and only thereafter consider if they should be stripped of their membership.
As the Speaker will be performing a quasi-judicial function, his decisions can be challenged court.
Another aspect is that the Speaker can take cognizance of a member’s conduct within the House only. He cannot take notice of the rebels' action outside. If and when the government seeks a trust vote, they can still change their mind by voting in favour.
A bad precedent was set in this regard by one-time Speaker PH Pandian who claimed he had sky-high powers. He took note of a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) agitation against Hindi imposition in 1986.
When its senior leader K Anbazhagan and 10 others symbolically burnt copies of the language chapter of the Constitution, the Speaker disqualified them on the ground that they had insulted the Constitution and thereby violated their oath.
The DMK did not go to court. So that precedent still stands unchallenged.