Suspense over the chief minister’s position in Tamil Nadu continued late into Tuesday as governor C Vidyasagar Rao fielded competing claims by rival AIADMK camps with sources saying top legal experts had told Raj Bhavan to opt for an assembly floor test.
In the afternoon, state highways minister Edappadi K Palaniswami – a loyalist of AIADMK chief Sasikala who was chosen as legislature party chief shortly after her conviction – called on the governor to stake claim to form government.
Sources said he submitted a list of 123 MLAs backing him but was denied permission to parade the lawmakers before the governor.
Caretaker chief minister O Panneerselvam – locked in a tussle for party control with Sasikala – sent his representatives, MP V Maitreyan and senior leader P H Pandian, to Raj Bhavan to request Rao not to invite Palaniswami to form the government.
Experts say before inviting anyone to form the government, Rao has to ascertain their claims of supporting MLAs. Sources close to the governor said he did not give any commitment to Palaniswami, saying that he would take a decision as per the Constitution.
Home ministry sources in New Delhi said that the governor had sent a report on Sunday afternoon and said he sought the opinion of three legal luminaries – attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, former AG Soli Sorabjee and former solicitor general Mohan Parasaran – before deciding on the next course of action.
“Two of the three experts – Rohatgi and Parasaran -- suggested that a composite floor test like the one conducted in Uttar Pradesh in 1998 could be a way forward in Tamil Nadu,” said an official.
In 1998, the Supreme Court ordered a floor test in the Uttar Pradesh assembly to determine who between the two claimants -- Jagdambika Pal and Kalyan Singh – had the support of the majority of the MLAs.
Former Union finance minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram also favoured a composite floor test. “If there is only one claimant, the governor can swear him in and ask him to prove his majority. If there are two claimants, the governor should call for a composite vote,” said Chidambaram who hails from Tamil Nadu.
Sorabjee didn’t find any illegality even if Sasikala had been sworn as the CM, but this option became void after the SC effectively knocked the 61-year-old out of contention. Sorabjee also stated that the floor test should not be delayed for more than a week, said sources.
In their meeting, sources said the pro-Panneerselvam leaders asked the governor that Palaniswami’s election as AIADMK legislature party leader was done under coercion as Sasikala had threatened the MLAs.
The AIADMK leaders also told the governor that there were allegations of large-scale corruption against Palaniswami. “While he has connections with illegal sand mining mafia, his close relative Ramalingam had links with former Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Board member Sekhar Reddy, who was caught red-handed by the income tax authorities possessing huge wealth disproportionate to his income,” they alleged.
Sources said they want the governor to examine the possibility of allowing Panneerselvam to withdraw his resignation and prove his majority on the floor of the House. However, sources close to Rao said he cannot take an immediate decision on inviting either Palaniswami or Panneerselvam to prove their majority, as per the legal advice by Rohatgi.
Inviting Panneerselvam first also has a technical problem, experts said. “Panneerselvam is only caretaker chief minister at present as his resignation has already been accepted. Unless the governor is convinced that Panneerselvam had resigned under coercion from Sasikala, he cannot revoke his decision of accepting the resignation,” sources said.
They added that the first chance would possibly go to Palaniswami. “Only if Palaniswami fails to prove his majority and the MLAs re-elect Pannerselvam as the new legislature party leader, the latter will get the chance to prove his majority.”