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Who will head Tamil Nadu? It's up to the SC now

S Murari | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:39 IST

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) legislators who are now with party general secretariat and Chief Minister-in-waiting VK Sasikala, were ferried in a bus to a swanky hotel Wednesday to check horse-trading following revolt by care-taker Chief Minister O Panneerselvam.

Sasikala called a meeting of the legislators for a show of strength after stripping Panneerselvam off the treasurer's post but stopping short of expelling him in the fear of turning him into a martyr.

However, she got the legislators to pass yet another resolution asking her to take over the reins of government.

Out of the total number of 136 MLAs, including the Speaker, 128 attended the meeting to show their solidarity with Sasikala while Panneerselvam became the rallying point for all disgruntled elements in the party - like former Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker PH Pandian, former Rajya Sabha member Maitreyan and former Electricity Minister Natham Viswanathan. They were all sidelined by Jayalalithaa when she was chief minister.

(Not) Pressed for time

The pro-Sasikala MLAs have said that if the Governor delays acting on their resolution of naming her as leader of the party they will send their petition to the President.

However, the Governor is in no hurry to take a decision. Former Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee has said the Governor can defer Sasikala's swearing in till the Supreme Court gives its verdict on the assets case against her, which is expected by Friday or next Monday.

Sorabjee has said that an adverse verdict will bar Sasikala from running for any public office for six years, making infructuous the MLAs support in her favour.

By his studied inaction, Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao has precipitated a constitutional crisis in Tamil Nadu.

Critical mess

If the impending verdict in the assets case is holding up Sasikala's elevation, the acceptance of Panneerselvam as chief minister by the Governor has created a mess.

It is doubtful whether the Governor can reinstate Panneerselvam after accepting his resignation and asking him continue as caretaker. Soli Sarabjee has said it cannot be done.

The Governor, who is still holding only additional charge of Tamil Nadu besides Maharashtra, has been spending more time in Mumbai than in Chennai, despite the fact that the state has been in absolute turmoil since the hospitalisation of Jayalalithaa in September last year, till her death in December. Matters have not improved since.

Vidyasagar Rao was in Delhi taking instructions from Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh when Sasikala got herself elected as leader of the legislature party to enable her to become chief minister.

The Governor did not bother to ascertain from Panneerselvam whether he acted on his own volition or under pressure.

The only loophole is the format of the resignation letter. Panneerselvam has in his letter said that he is relinquishing office for health reasons. He also noted the time of the resignation as 1.41 PM. which meant that he was forced even before the legislators met to elect Sasikala as leader.

What now?

The Governor has limited options. He can wait for the Supreme Court verdict in the assets case. In case it goes against Sasikala, it will mean the end of her political career. If it goes in her favour, the Governor will have no other option except to swear her in, whether she has the people's support or not.

If the verdict is delayed beyond Monday, pressure will mount on the Governor to act to check horse-trading. That fear has already started with Sasikala herding her MLAs to prevent poaching.

The only option then will be to ask either Sasikala or Panneerselvam to face the floor test in the Assembly.

As Congress spokesman and Supreme Court advocate Abhishekh Manu Singhvi has said - "The Centre should not fish in troubled waters of Tamil Nadu."

The current impasse is a creation of the Governor and only he can end it - but it looks like he is in no hurry to return to Chennai.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 9 February 2017, 1:44 IST