Tamil Nadu: Decision time for governor as Sasikala, Panneerselvam stake rival claims
AIADMK chief VK Sasikala and dissident leader O Panneerselvan both met Governor Vidyasagar Rao Thursday and staked claim to form the government in Tamil Nadu.
Panneerselvam met the governor at 5 pm for five minutes and told him that the party's legislators were being held under duress and that he was ready to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly. Sasikala, on her part, handed over a list of 130 MLAs supporting her, out of the total 135.
While Panneerselvam was accompanied by AIAADMK presidium chairman M Madhusoodhan, Sasikala took with her 10 senior ministers. She also went with the resolution adopted by the AIADMK Legislature Party electing her as the leader and also the letters of support from the MLAs.
Since the Supreme Court judgment in the SR Bommai case holds that the
assembly is the only forum to prove a claimant's majority and not the Raj Bhavan, Sasikala did not find it necessary to physically line the MLAs supporting her before the governor.
Although Panneerselvam is serving as the caretaker chief minister, his resignation has been accepted and the governor cannot allow him to take it back even though he now claims he was forced by Sasikala to step down to pave the way for her elevation. A handful of MLAs who have thrown their weight behind him have also alleged they were forced to sign blank papers ahead of the legislature meeting.
With the pro-Sasikala legislators being kept at a guest house in Koovathur, a village off Mahabalipuram on the East Coast Road, to prevent their poaching, the governor may choose to meet the MLAs individually to ascertain their wishes.
This will give him breathing space to decide on who should be called to form the government, though, at the moment, numbers favour Sasikala. It will also enable him to wait for the Supreme Court's verdict in the assets case against Sasikala, expected by Monday. The AIADMK chief is a co-accused in the case and an adverse verdict will bar her from running for any public office, thereby putting her out of the race for chief ministership.
According to former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde, in the current situation when only a handful of MLAs are with Panneerselvam - whose resignation has been accepted - and an overwhelming majority of the MLAs is with Sasikala, the governor has "very limited discretion".
Former editor of The Hindu N Ram has wondered how the MLAs can be called free agents, on the basis of whose support Sasikala has staked claim, when they have been spirited away to a secret location even though the government has misled the Madras High Court by saying they are in the MLAs' Hostel.
BJP spokesperson Aman Sinha said the governor has to factor in allegations of coercion made by MLAs before taking a call on who enjoys the majority in the assembly.
Meanwhile, former AIADMK minister PC Palanasamy has filed a petition in the high court challenging Sasikala's election as the party general secretary as illegal.
Now the ball is in the governor's court. If the Supreme Court verdict in the assets case is delayed beyond Monday, the governor will have little choice but to call Sasikala to form the government and ask her to prove her majority in the assembly.